Loss of integrity in underground city tunnel causes evacuation of Downtown Montreal

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

A one-inch settlement of the roof of The Bay tunnel to the Montreal Metro caused authorities to evacuate 12 blocks of the Montreal downtown core.

Several people noticed water infiltration in the tunnel over the last few days. On Friday, August 24, at 1 p.m., while investigating another water infiltration incident, The Bay employees noticed that the ceiling of the tunnel portion of The Bay's basement sales area had descended one inch over a 7 meter length. They subsequently called police. The police and firefighters evacuated the basement of the downtown Bay store. The police closed de Maisonneuve Boulevard from Aylmer Street to Union Street, over the area of the crack.

The McGill Metro station.
Image: Denis Jacquerye.

At 4 p.m., firefighters evacuated the Parkade Montreal Building and The Bay Department Store after finding pieces of concrete falling from the Parkade Montreal structure, a multi-story carpark with five levels of offices on top. They also evacuated the downtown portion of the Line 1 / Green Line of the Montreal Metro subway, from Lionel-Groulx to Berri-UQAM stations, and evacuated the McGill metro station, which is situated below The Bay tunnel. After consulting with city engineers, Centre 2001, the loading dock of the Bay and its Hertz car rental agency, Les Promenades Cathedrale underground shopping centre and office tower, and a neighbouring office tower to the Parkade were also evacuated. Police cordoned off an area from Bleury Street in the east to University Street in the west, and from Ste-Catherine Street in the south to President Kennedy Street to the north.

The closure of the Metro caused havoc to the Friday afternoon rush hour, as over 40,000 people regularly use the Green Line (Line 1) every day. Montreal Transit Corporation workers issued directions during the day, though some may not have been informed of a provisionary bus service to replace the lost subway service. Loudspeakers announced that commuters should use the unaffected Orange Line (Line 2), which has lines between 5 and 10 blocks south of Line 1 (Green Line), and also connects to Lionel-Groulx and Berri-UQAM stations.

The downtown area is intended to remain closed for at least the weekend, along with portions of the underground city, or RESO. The tunnel was built in 1966. For the last few days, city work crews have been working above the slab in question, digging a one meter trench to install a median and segregate a new bike path on de Maisonneuve Boulevard. The tunnel roof lies five meters below street level.

Residents of Montreal are frustrated with the crumbling infrastructure in and around the city, including the collapse of the de la Concorde Boulevard overpass over Autoroute 19 expressway last year, the shattering of a column holding up the Autoroute 720 Ville Marie elevated expressway last month, and other incidents.

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