The sun pokes through the three different deck surfaces as seen for the water level during a media tour of the new Champlain Bridge in Montreal on Monday, June 17, 2019.
Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette
Suzanne Bienvenu watched the new Samuel de Champlain Bridge take form over the last four years from the window of her home; on Monday she was one of the first to drive on it.The new bridge opened officially to traffic just before 5 a.m.“It was amazing,” Bienvenu said. “I was able to see it being built and kept saying to myself, ‘one day, I’m going to be on it.’ I made history (today). It was great just to be there.”Bienvenu convinced her neighbour to drive her over the bridge so she could take pictures as she crossed. She woke up at 4 a.m. and waited in a line of cars for about a half hour so she could be one of the first across.Including engineers working on design, more than 2,000 people logged nearly 8.5 million hours to build the bridge. At peak on the worksite, there were 1,600 workers as the project was done in a fast-track process, which involved designing the bridge as it was being built.One of the first people to conceive of the new bridge was Guy Mailhot, chief engineer for Infrastructure Canada, which oversaw the project. He was involved in its first conceptions back in 2012, three years before the project broke ground.“When you go back seven years, it seems like so long away to be able to drive across it and get to the end result,” Mailhot said. “It’s nice to be able to see the end result.”The new bridge — one of the widest in the world — is built to last 125 years. It has three lanes in each direction for car traffic and a shoulder on the right side, which is now being used as a reserved lane for buses until 2021 when the REM — an electric light-rail train — is slated to begin service over the bridge. When the train is running, that lane will be reserved for cars with mechanical problems.The bridge is being opened in stages. Monday was for Montreal-bound traffic. It will open to South Shore-bound drivers next Monday, July 1. Until then, anyone leaving from Montreal will take the old Champlain Bridge to get across, and the new one to return. A cyclist and pedestrian pathway will open in September or October, and the REM is slated to start service over the bridge’s middle span in 2021.The old bridge — built in 1962 — will be closed on July 1 and demolition on part of it will begin soon after because crews need to free up space to finish work on the new bridge. The complete demolition of the bridge won’t begin for several months, and the process will take at least four years.François-Philippe Champagne, the minister for infrastructure said the federal government wanted the bridge — the busiest in Canada with 50 million annual crossings — to stand out. He believes builders succeeded in making the cable-stayed bridge an iconic monument for the city.“We talk about the Golden Gate Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge, and I think this will be a historic landmark for Montreal,” Champagne said.Drivers will notice there are still plenty of construction workers on site and scaffolding on the main tower. Most of the work left on the bridge is painting and touch ups, while the road network around the bridge is being completed by the end of the year. The jetties — consisting of 1 million tonnes of stones — to serve as worksites for the project will have to be removed and the river returned to its former state by that time.The $4.239 billion of taxpayer money covers the construction of the bridge and its maintenance for 30 years, but the final bill will have to be worked out by lawyers for both the federal government and Signature on the St. Lawrence, the consortium of companies including SNC-Lavalin that built the new structure, as the original deadline for the project was December 2018, and penalty fees may be applied to the consortium.Related