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Updated: Fri, 01 Aug 2014 17:17:08 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Burlington Skyway closed all weekend as engineers assess damage



Delays caused by this crash have lead to slow morning drives all over Hamilton. Ontario Provincial Police

Delays caused by this crash have lead to slow morning drives all over Hamilton. Ontario Provincial Police

The Burlington Skyway will be closed for the entire weekend, forcing tens of thousands of holiday weekend travellers to find alternate routes around the vital artery into Toronto and the Golden Horseshoe.

Astrid Poei from the Ministry of Transportation confirmed the closure Friday afternoon and said there would be no further updates from the ministry until Monday.

Engineers will use the weekend to continue assessing the scope of damage and repairs necessary to the bridge.

The ministry is also trying to get the word out about the closure as widely as possible, working with neighbouring cities Burlington and Hamilton, as well as communicating with Canadian and U.S. border officials to try to advise tens of thousands of drivers to take alternate routes around the bridge during the upcoming holiday weekend.

A big concern is traffic heading into Toronto for the Caribbean Carnival, since as much as 25 per cent of the crowd comes from the U.S.

Two teams of engineers are on site assessing damage to the Burlington Skyway. The Toronto-bound Skyway lanes were closed after a dump truck crashed into scaffolding and part of the bridge structure late Thursday afternoon.

An average of 75,000 cars cross the Toronto-bound side of the bridge every day.

Meanwhile, the Transportation Ministry asked its contractors on nearby projects to hold off for the weekend to mitigate any additional traffic congestion construction would cause.

For drivers, the focus Friday is finding a way around the bottleneck.

Area highways and many streets through the centre of Hamilton were affected. City staff said they were taking steps to deal with the closure ahead of long-weekend traffic. Traffic signal timing has been changed for some lights and non-essential roadwork cancelled to try to alleviate some of the congestion.

The city released a list of possible routes to avoid the Skyway bridge, in order of priority: 

- Eastport Drive.

- Red Hill Valley Parkway – Lincoln Alexander Parkway– Highway 403.

- Burlington Street – Wellington Street – Cannon Street – Highway 403.

- Fruitland Road – Highway 8 – Highway 403.

The province will also be suggesting a detour of the 403 in case it is heavily backed up, using highways 52, 5 and 6, the city said. 

Assessing the damage

The teams of engineers are going to be looking for both direct and indirect damage to bridge components, said Samir Chidiac, professor in the faculty of engineering at McMaster University. 

"There’s a lot of structural elements that are interconnected," Chidiac said. "Depending which elements got damaged, they'll be assessing how critical are the contribution of these elements to the integrity of the bridge."

Bridge design counts on the ability of each element to bear some of the load and carry it to the foundation.

Chidiac said the bridge has been recently analyzed, so as long as a structural model exists, engineers could assess the consequences of whatever elements have been damaged. 

"Can they be repaired or do they have to be replaced?" he said.

The frustration of the region's commuters and the pressure for a fast reopening should not factor in the engineers' assessment, he said. 

"I can tell you, as an engineer, that doesn’t come into the equation, political pressure," he said. "When it comes to life safety, we don’t mess around." 

Managing traffic

Much of the traffic is being diverted to Eastport Drive, which was clogged during the morning rush hour. City traffic staff were watching road cameras and driving Hamilton routes themselves to assess the traffic buildup. Some traffic lights may be adjusted to allow for more vehicles to move through a green light, said Dave Ferguson from the city. 

"We're also looking at alternate routes that we may be able to use to move traffic through the city," Ferguson said.  

The Ontario Provincial Police recommended Toronto-bound commuters take Red Hill Parkway to the Lincoln M. Alexander Parkway to Highway 403 instead. The Lincoln Alexander merge onto the 403 was backed up and the highway was slow down the escarpment and through the city. 

Delays affected many other city streets as commuters from the east end tried to make it to the open 403. Cannon Street leading into York Blvd was jammed through the downtown.

Go Transit is reporting delays on many routes as a result of the closure. The agency’s Route 12 bus, which travels from Niagara Falls to Toronto, is facing delays of up to an hour.

- CBC Toronto - Traffic 

Hamilton police were not actively directing vehicle traffic Friday. But spokeswoman Debbie McGreal-Dinning warned drivers to be alert.

“We recognize the significant increase of traffic in our city and advise that motorists need to expect delays,” she said.

McGreal-Dinning added that commuters should not treat Hamilton city streets as an extension of the highway.

“We ask that they be cognizant of speed and spacing when transitioning from the highways to the main roads,” she said.

The Skyway bridge closure is also affecting ship traffic through the Burlington canal.

Raising the lift bridge affects traffic trying to navigate around the closure. The Hamilton Police Marine Unit said that lifts will be reduced by half to just on the hour.

A slow commute

Commuters took to Twitter to commiserate about the traffic. 

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One Stoney Creek resident commuting to Oakville tweeted it had taken her more than 45 minutes to reach Eastport Drive, typically about a 15-minute trip.

Another woke up extra-early to account for the traffic.

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If you have any pictures or stories to tell from today's commute, tweet or email us: hamilton@cbc.ca

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