Bridge contingency plan under review

Mike Carson
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Five similar accidents on bridge bothersome to Le Chasseur

BORDEN-CARLETON – An accident that closed down the Confederation Bridge for nearly four hours recently raises an issue of a contingency plan for movement of people and goods to from the Island in the event of a major catastrophe on the bridge.

Confederation Bridge.

Michel Le Chasseur, general manager of Strait Crossing Bridge Limited said the accident on Monday, when a tractor-trailer ran into the back of a bridge sweeper, could have been worse.

“There was absolutely no obstruction,” Le Chasseur said. "You could see that vehicle from far away and there were absolutely no visibility issues for the truck driver. So, really, he didn’t see it.”

He said there was not an escort vehicle travelling behind the sweeper.

“The sweeper truck is equipped with all kinds of bells and whistles,” Le Chasseur said. “If there was an escort vehicle, it would be a pick-up truck and the pick-up truck would have been smashed to smithereens. What saved our man was the fact that the sweep truck, the bin was full. That added quite a lot of weight to the truck and that provided the cushion so that things didn’t end up being worse than they were.”

Crews are examining the bridge to see if any damage resulted from the accident.

“We haven’t finished our inspection yet so that answer is not known yet,” le Chasseur said. "We have to go inside and we have to check both sides of the barrier wall but right now, we don’t have an answer for that.”

The manner in which the accident happened is a concern for the general manager.

“There haven’t been a whole lot of accidents (since the bridge opened in 1997) but what is bothersome for me is in the last year-and-a-half, there have been five, which is quite a lot, and all five were of similar nature,” he said. “It really bothers me because you wonder, if you’re focused on your driving you would have seen that truck. There’s some kind of distraction somewhere and I don’t have the solution today but it is an issue.”

Le Chasseur said there is a contingency plan in place should the bridge be out of commission for any great length of time but added that plan is 16 years old and is now under review.

“We have to look at the services available,” he said. “The first service that everybody would think of is the existing ferry service and perhaps an additional one (in Borden-Carleton) that we would have to put in place. There are two airports here, Summerside and Charlottetown.

“This plan was developed in 1997,” Le Chasseur said. “We’re 16 years into it. Life has changed a lot on P.E.I. in the way people do business. Even the expectations – back in 1997 waiting for 90 minutes to cross was part of life. Today, if I offer you that scenario at the bridge you’d lose patience after two minutes. The expectations have changed, the way we do business has changed.”

He said with the advances in transportation to and from the province there are no inventories of goods on P.E.I. anymore.

“I remember a couple of Christmases ago the bridge was closed to trucks for 50 hours and all of a sudden there was no more bread, no more flour, no more this, that and the other thing at the stores,” Le Chasseur said. “That makes you think that there is no more bread on P.E.I. after 50 hours. So, you start thinking about petrol products, pharmaceutical products, you name it. It is a complex issue, this contingency plan and the response to it.”

He said it is a good sign that the plan is being revisited.

“It is quite timely that people are poking at this and so are the people behind the plan,” Le Chasseur said. “The plan involves the federal government, provincial government ourselves and all of the emergency response units all over the Island and New Brunswick.

"Since life has changed significantly and we’ve done some exercises involving all of the services and what we see that was good in 1997 might not be applicable today,” he said. “And some things that didn’t exist in 97 are good today. We have to adjust this plan and think of maximizing the tools that we have. The wheel has started to turn. We’re into it now.”

Geographic location: Borden-Carleton, Summerside, Charlottetown Iceland New Brunswick

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