With demo of LaSalle Causeway bridge underway, concerns arise about next steps

Kingston eclipse LaSalle

With the awarding of a contract to demolish the Lasalle Causeway bridge, discussions in Kingston are now turning to what comes next.

This week, Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), which operates the Bascule Bridge, announced that it had awarded the contract, valued at $1.7 million, for the demolition and removal of the bridge to Priestly Demolition Inc. of King, Ont.

PSPC said work was slated to begin this week and expects that the channel for marine navigation will open within the month, freeing the ships, including several cruise ships, that have been trapped in the inner harbour since the closure of the LaSalle Causeway in late March.

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The closure was to allow repairs to be made to the bridge. However, PSPC announced last month that the bridge would have to be demolished and replaced entirely.

Local cruise operators have been anxiously awaiting updates as their ships remain moored in the inner harbour. St. Lawrence Cruise Lines, whose cruise ship the Canadian Empress has been unable to leave the harbour, laid off 20 employees in May as a direct result of the ongoing closure of the LaSalle Causeway, said Daniel Beals, human resources and marketing manager for the cruise operator.

With the latest update from PSPC, plans for a temporary replacement bridge are raising new concerns.

Krista LeClair, executive director of Kingston Accommodation Partners, told EOBJ recently that while she is relieved that the cruise ships will be able to leave the harbour and operate their tours for the summer, there are concerns for the end of the season, when the ships will look to re-enter the harbour for the winter.

“This is a complex situation where we’re balancing pedestrian needs, marine needs and vehicle needs,” she said. “We need the government to consider what the end of the busy tourism season would look like if a temporary bridge that cannot lift is in place,” LeClair explained.

The concerns extend beyond cruise operators, she added. Many marine vessels need to access the inner harbour for maintenance, she explained, including private yachts and ferries that provide access to private residential islands.

The lift bridge is a key component of the causeway, which brings traffic into downtown Kingston from the east. A replacement bridge that does not lift would bar marine vessels from accessing the inner harbour and Davis Drydock.

The Davis Drydock is the only facility in the area and is where many ships dock for inspections and emergency repair work. Without access to the drydock, ships are stranded; the next closest drydock is in Hamilton, and most vessels are unsuited to make the trip.

Other businesses, such as MetalCraft Marine, which builds boats such as government vessels and fireboats, rely on access to the dock and Kingston Marina. 

“If there’s a temporary bridge in place that releases two ships but then doesn’t lift to let anything back in, we’re in the same situation as now, but two boats have been released,” LeClair said. “Demoing the bridge is just one step, but there are many other questions.”

The causeway’s closure also has impacted pedestrian and vehicle access, which is top of mind for stakeholders including the St. Lawrence Parks Commission, which runs the Fort Henry National Historical Site, as well as downtown businesses that are concerned with a lull in traffic.

On Wednesday, PSPC said that it is working with the City of Kingston on a plan to reinstate access for vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians using a “temporary modular bridge solution.”

“Simultaneously, preparations are underway to begin preliminary design work for a new replacement bridge,” PSPC said.

LeClair added that Kingston Accommodation Partners, which includes organizations such as Kingston Tourism, continues to advocate for compensation from the PSPC.

“So far, the PSPC has not been willing to entertain those conversations, so that advocacy will continue,” she explained. 

LeClair told EOBJ in May that the impact on the city’s tourism economy of the ongoing closure would grow from $20 million to hundreds of millions of dollars if the situation persisted through May and into June.

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