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Heads Up! Is that a Piece of Concrete Falling from the Sky?

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As I write this, nestled in my quaint memory is the many times I have walked and driven over several famous Roman aqueducts and bridges in Italy and France. Imagine that. thousands of years later they remain functional and safe – a fitting tribute to a remarkable engineering and administrative culture and society.

Fast forward 2,000 years. In the span of three years, two Quebec overpasses have collapsed (with a third which was closed for structural repairs), resulting in multiple deaths. All bridges were built in my home city of Laval – a large suburb of Montreal.

What is going on and where’s the outrage, I wonder? Canadians seem to get far more riled up when it comes to public health or the environment.

Citizens should be able to accept that the people building something as simple as a bridge can be trusted. As far as I know, Quebec does not have a shortage of competent engineers or workers to design and build bridges. Though sometimes they are filled with design flaws that make Quebec a logistical nightmare, it does not mean the quality is compromised.

Quebecers may be asking for too much. It’s clear by the ongoing inquiry looking into the recent de la Concorde overpass collapse, that corruption played a large role in the poorly built bridge. Add that Transport Quebec has been rather lax in the maintenance of bridges just thirty or forty years into their existence, and you get a disaster paid for by blood. Three people were killed – including a pregnant woman – on that shocking September day.

What makes this all the more frightening and personalized is that 15 minutes before the bridge collapsed my wife and daughter drove on the overpass. 30 minutes before that it was my mother. As for the bridge that did not collapse but shut down for repairs, it’s impossible to say how many times I’ve crossed it. I suppose we all cheated death all these years. Unfortunately, some were not so lucky.

In the interest of fairness, this has less to do with the competence level of our engineers and more with the lack of standards they were allowed to operate with during the era these bridges were built. Nonetheless, people must be held accountable.

The Montreal Gazette recently published an article disclosing the state of some of Montreal’s overpasses. The report by a civil engineer from McGill came back with disturbing news. He graded four important overpasses regularly used by commuters. What did the report card reveal? Three of the four received a grade of 6.5 out of a possible ten, while a fourth earned a staggering 3.5.

In a modern society with access to technology, how can this be allowed to happen? It’s not enough to think that people will face justice. I would like to know how in this day and age we have permitted ourselves to let greed get in the way of public safety? Bridges collapsing resulting in death should not be tolerated and is reason enough to have those involved hang their heads in shame.

With June 24 around the corner, pride and flags will be flying as Quebecers celebrate La Fete St. Jean Baptiste – a de facto national holiday for the province. It sounds as though Quebecers have already forgotten the overpass tragedies. Canadians in general have become way too apathetic and cynical when it comes to public life and community responsibility.

I’m hoping that collapsing bridges over our heads and the fact that we drive with one eye fixed on every overpass will galvanize us into action.

That’s why I wrote this article – to expose this travesty to a wider audience.

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About Alessandro Nicolo

  • bliffle

    Bad design and defective construction are becoming the norm, and big civic projects lead the way because they are expensive so the corruption yield is greater. Management simply demands cost cuts everywhere and the unfortunate designer who tries to do it right gets replaced. projects are so big and expensive that builders begrudge actually spending money on project because it reduces their yield.

  • http://www.friendlymisanthropist.blogspot.com alessandro Nicolo

    I hope it’s not that prevalent but it does feel as though that’s what’s happening. Mind you, the bridges in question were built 40 years ago. I can’t speak for other cities but to have three overpasses collapse and have several others structurally unsound as we have here possibly makes us the worst offenders.