This 2006 photo shows the southbound Papineau Autoroute (A-19) at EXIT 8 (A-440 / Laval Autoroute) in Laval. This photo was taken less than two hours after the Boulevard de la Concorde overpass collapse (at EXIT 5), and barricades shown in the distance were positioned promptly to detour traffic around the accident scene. (Photo by Laura Siggia Anderson.)
ANOTHER LINK FROM MONTREAL AND LAVAL TO THE NORTH: Conceived in the 1960's as a link between the Jacques Cartier Bridge (QC 134) and an expanded Mirabel Airport, the Papineau Autoroute (A-19) was to relieve congestion on the Laurentian and Decarie autoroutes, both of which comprised A-15.
Construction of a short section of A-19, which included the cable-stayed Papineau-Leblanc Bridge over Riviere des Prairies (the largest cable-stayed bridge in North America when it was built), began in 1968 and was completed two years later. The Papineau-Leblanc Bridge connected the Montreal alignment of A-19 along Papineau Avenue with the highway's Leblanc Street alignment in Laval.This six-lane section stretched from Henri Bourassa Boulevard in the borough of Ahuntsic-Cartierville (Montreal) to EXIT 4 (Boulevard Levesque East) in the Duvernay section of Laval. The Papineau Autoroute was extended north to EXIT 7 (QC 148 / St. Martin Boulevard East) in 1972, EXIT 8 (A-440 / Laval Autoroute) in 1976, and EXIT 9 (Dagenais Boulevard East) in 1990. The expressway narrows to two lanes in each direction (from three) for the short section north of EXIT 8 as it becomes QC 335 (Papineau Avenue).
According to the Ministere des Transports du Quebec (MTQ), A-19 carries as much as 60,000 vehicles per day (AADT) at the Papineau-Leblanc Bridge; this volume declines sharply to 15,000 per day near its current northern terminus.
DEADLY DÉJÀ VU IN LAVAL: On the afternoon of September 30, 2006, the three eastbound lanes of Boulevard de la Concorde (EXIT 5) collapsed onto six lanes of A-19, killing five people and and injuring six critically. The collapse crushed two vehicles underneath while sending three vehicles and a motorcycle plunging about six meters (20 feet) below. Half of the reinforced concrete-arch bridge carrying the three westbound lanes remained standing after the collapse, though the superstructure was fatally compromised. The accident recalled a similar collapse of the Boulevard du Souvenir overpass across the Laurentian Autoroute (A-15) on June 18, 2000.
Several weeks before the collapse, one eyewitness said there were "unusually large gaps and misaligned spacing in the deck-support structure underneath." About one hour before the collapse, an MTQ maintenance crew was sent to inspect the structure after reports that concrete had fallen from above, but the crew found no immediate danger. The MTQ did not close either A-19 or Boulevard de la Concorde; however, it did call for a full inspection of the bridge to be carried out the following Monday since no one was available that Saturday.
Immediately after the collapse, officials closed A-19 from EXIT 4 (QC 148) north to EXIT 8 (A-440) to all traffic. Another overpass of similar design - the De Blois Boulevard bridge over A-19 - was closed indefinitely and tagged for replacement. Both the De la Concorde and De Blois overpasses were built in 1970 and were designed with a 70-year lifespan; the A-19 roadway beneath the bridges opened in 1972. Construction crews from the MTQ completed the demolition of the two overpasses on October 21, 2006 and reopened A-19 to traffic soon thereafter.
The collapse initially was blamed on the corrosion of the interior steel bars, faulty design and placement of the bars, and poor quality concrete (helped by no small part by deterioration from repeated salting) surrounding these bars. Heavier-than-anticipated traffic loads - particularly truck traffic - also was thought to have contributed to the collapse. However, a closer look at prior records revealed the following:
1980's: Initial inspections of the bridge found surface cracks, but not enough to warrant concern.
1992: Repairs were made to cracks in the concrete and expansion joints were replaced. However, engineers had to remove more concrete than expected for the joint replacement, weakening the structure. A separate inspection report also called for the installation of a waterproof membrane, but the engineer leading the 1992 project decided that the concrete had deteriorated too much (anticipating the concrete would be replaced) and did not install the membrane.
2002: The overpass was downgraded to "acceptable" from "good" in a biennial inspection.
2004: In a follow-up inspection, the bridge was upgraded back to "good" condition even though no work had been done on the overpass. However, an engineer's report from earlier that year raised serious concerns about the integrity of the concrete as evidenced by diagonal shear cracks and the deterioration of the abutment. Cracks also were detected on the center support of the overpass.
According to Denis Mitchell, a civil engineering professor at McGill University, the concrete was so deteriorated at the point of the collapse that only 20% of the concrete retained its structural integrity. Mitchell said the overpass should have been closed immediately upon discovery of the cracks, and argued the correct placement of additional steel "stirrup" bars would have slowed or even stopped the cracks.
The MTQ completed the new De la Concorde and De Blois overpasses on June 13, 2007. In October 2007, a commission led by former Parti Québécois (PQ) Premier and Cabinet member Pierre Marc Johnson found no single person or entity responsible for the collapse. However, the Johnson Commission report criticized the MTQ for lackluster inspection procedures and repeated violations of the province's inspection protocols. Going even further back, the commission blamed the province for cutting corners on road building as it expanded social spending in the 1960's and 1970's. The collapse was an important catalyst for provincial leaders to undertake a C$30 billion, five-year effort to repair roads, replace bridges, and rehabilitate other municipal infrastructure.
This 2008 photo shows the Papineau Autoroute (A-19) at the Papineau-Leblanc Bridge looking south toward Montreal. When it opened in 1970, the Papineau-Leblanc Bridge across the Rivieres-des-Prairies was the longest cable-stay bridge in the world. (Photo by Scott Steeves, www.canhighways.com.)
EXTENSION NORTH TO A-640 IS IN THE WORKS: On May 31, 2007, the MTQ approved a comprehensive study of the QC 335 corridor from the current end of A-19 in Laval north to A-640 in Bois-des-Fillons. The province acquired the A-19 right-of-way along the current QC 335 (Papineau Avenue) between 1968 and 1973, but work ceased on the A-19 extension when the PQ government imposed a moratorium on new autoroute construction in the late 1970's.
Even as construction ceased (save for an expansion of the expansion of the Athanasse-David Bridge over Riviere des Milles-Iles in 2001), congestion continued to grow as Laval became more suburbanized in the past three decades. The two-lane QC 335 today carries approximately 57,000 vehicles per day, more than many suburban autoroutes. Local officials favor the A-19 extension because they say it would not only cut commute times, but also improve quality of life.
Interchanges are planned at the following locations:
EXIT 9: Dagenais Boulevard; Laval EXIT 11: St.-Saens Street; Laval EXIT 12: Boulevard des Mille-Iles; Laval EXIT 13: QC 344 (Adolphe Chapleau Boulevard); Bois-des-Fillons EXIT 14: A-640 (North Belt Autoroute); Bois-des-Fillons (partially completed) END: Industrial Boulevard; Bois-des-Fillons (at-grade intersection)
On June 21, 2010, the MTQ approved construction of the A-19 extension north to Industrial Boulevard in Bois-des-Fillons, just north of A-640. The C$320 million expected cost includes construction of a six-lane freeway for six kilometers (four miles), two lanes of which will be reserved for mass transit (and possibly HOV) use, the erection of a new parallel span over Riviere des Milles-Iles, and the construction of a park-and-ride lot just north of A-640 (likely on undeveloped land on QC 335 at Rang St.-Francois near the Hydro-Quebec substation) to serve as a terminus for buses bound for the Cartier Metro station in Laval. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2014 within the existing A-19 right-of-way, with completion slated for 2015.
BUT THE EXTENSION TO MIRABEL IS NOT: The partially completed cloverleaf interchange between A-19 and A-640 hints at a possible northern extension of A-19 toward Ste.-Anne-des-Plaines and an eastern extension of A-50. The proposed interchange between A-19 and A-50 would have been within the boundaries of an expanded Mirabel Airport. The A-19 extension, which was announced in 1969 as part of Federal and provincial plans to develop the airport, likely would have been a toll facility since it paralleled the Laurentian Autoroute (A-15), which at the time was a toll road. As Mirabel Airport never lived up to its potential, the MTQ deemed the A-19 extension north of A-640 unnecessary by the end of the 1970s.
This 2006 photo shows southbound Papineau Avenue (QC 335) just south of St.-Saens Street in Laval. Note the wide right-of-way on the left reserved for the northbound lanes of A-19. Under plans being revisited by the province, A-19 would be extended from A-440 north to A-640, with the southbound lanes of A-19 being built over the current QC 335. (Photo by Laura Siggia Anderson.)
THE "PAPINEAU DITCH": Plans for a fourth north-south autoroute crossing Montreal Island date back to the mid-1950s, when Mayor Jean Drapeau proposed a six-lane expressway first along St. Denis Street and then along St. Lawrence Street ("the Main"). In 1958, the City of Montreal began traffic studies in preparation for the city's 1960 master plan, which was to include a number of expressways crisscrossing the island.
In 1961, the Montreal Metropolitan Committee approved the locations of a number of expressways including the Metropolitan (then under construction), Decarie, and Ville Marie (then called "East-West") autoroutes. The committee also advocated the construction of expressways along the following north-south alignments:
Along the St. Lawrence Street / St. Dominique Street corridor from the Ville Marie Autoroute to the Metropolitan Autoroute, and then northeast to the Viau (Ahuntsic) Bridge. Peak volume was estimated at 10,000 vehicles per hour.
Along the Papineau Avenue / Bordeaux Street corridor from the Jacques Cartier Bridge to the Metropolitan Autoroute, and then northeast to the Pie-IX Bridge. Peak volume was estimated at 4,500 vehicles per hour.
By the mid-1960s, these corridors had shifted to the north and east amid concerns that the route of the first corridor would cause considerable disruption in downtown Montreal. The first corridor, which became the preferred route for A-19, was moved toward Papineau Avenue, and was to continue north toward a new bridge over Rivieres des Prairies to Laval. The second corridor was shifted further east; this became the route of A-25 (Lafontaine Autoroute).
According to this plan, which was finalized in 1969 as part of the development of Mirabel Airport, A-19 was to begin at the Jacques Cartier Bridge and continue along the Papineau Avenue corridor. Like the Decarie Autoroute (A-15), the Papineau Autoroute was to have six through vehicular lanes and be built in the below-grade trench north to the Metropolitan Autoroute (A-40). From A-40 north to the Papineau-Leblanc Bridge, A-19 was to be built as a surface-level freeway with grade-separated interchanges at Sauve Street and Henri-Bourassa Boulevard. A grassy right-of-way from this original plan can be found along the current Papineau Avenue (signed as A-19) from A-40 north to Sauve Street.
Given the controversy surrounding the construction of the "Decarie Ditch" and the "Ville Marie Tunnel," as well as the defeat of numerous freeways in Toronto and other North American cities, the MTQ shelved plans for the A-19 freeway south of the Papineau-Leblanc Bridge in 1971. Following this cancellation, the MTQ rebuilt the existing Papineau Avenue from A-40 north to the Papineau-Leblanc Bridge as a surface arterial with bus lanes.
The exit numbering scheme for A-19 begins at EXIT 4, but kilometer posts continue south to A-40 in anticipation of a freeway extension south of EXIT 4. These exits likely would have been marked as follows:
This 2006 photo shows northbound Papineau Avenue (signed as A-19) just north of the Metropolitan Autoroute (A-40). Although this section of A-19 was built as a surface potential with only a few signaled intersections, a right-of-way was preserved (shown on the right) along much of this route for a potential conversion to a full freeway. The right lanes are reserved for buses during peak travel periods. (Photo by Laura Siggia Anderson.)
EXTEND THE A-19 EXPRESSWAY SOUTH TO A-40: To ease congestion on the north-south axis between Montreal, Laval, and points north, the Papineau Autoroute should be extended south as a six-lane freeway from EXIT 4 south to A-40.
SOURCES: "Volume of Traffic for the Proposed Expressway System, Based on Projections for the Year 1981," Ville de Montreal, Service de la Circulation (1961); "New Road Building Outlined in Detail," The Montreal Gazette (3/27/1969); "A Study of the Existing Montreal Expressway System" by Dominic Mignogna, McGill University (1969); "Bridge to South Shore Needed by 1985," The Montreal Gazette (7/23/1971); Distances Routières, Ministère des Transports du Québec (1983); "City of Lost Dreams" by Kristian Gravenor, The Montreal Mirror (10/26/2000); A Shared Vision for Action: Planning Framework and Government Orientations, Montreal Metropolitan Region 2001-2021, Ministère des Affaires Municipales et de la Metropole (2001); "Deadly Déjà vu in Laval" by Catherine Solyom, Alana Coates, Marissa Larouche-Smart, and Sidhartha Banerjee, The Montreal Gazette (10/01/2006); "Maintenance Could Have Spotted Flaws" by Max Harrold, The Montreal Gazette (10/01/2006); "Green Light Given for Feasibility Study" by Jean-Maurice Duddin, Le Journal de Montreal (6/01/2007); "Overpass Inspections Lacked 'Common Sense'" by William Marsden, The Montreal Gazette (7/11/2007); "Overpass Repeatedly Given Passing Grade" by William Marsden, The Montreal Gazette (7/12/2007); "Transport Quebec, Contractor Split on Blame" by William Marsden, The Montreal Gazette (8/01/2007); "'Chain of Events Contributed to Laval Overpass Disaster," CBC News (10/18/2007); "Highway 19 To Be Extended by 2015," CBC News (6/21/2010); Félix Mathieu-Bégin; Stephane Dumas; Richard Dupuis; Andrew Gurudata.
A-19 shield from Wikipedia. Lightpost photos by Douglas Kerr and Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.