By Daniel Nolan, Hamilton Spectator
A 34-year-old Brampton man has been charged with impaired driving in connection with a dump truck crash that shut down the Toronto-bound lanes of the Burlington Skyway Bridge during rush-hour Thursday.
A former transportation ministry official says motorists should expect the bridge to remain closed for "several days" because of the crash.
Will MacKenzie, who retired from the ministry in 2011 after nearly 20 years, says structural engineers will require time to declare the Toronto-bound bridge lanes ready for traffic again.
"On a steel bridge like this one, they've got to get up there, climb up, take a look around, all very carefully," he said Thursday night. "There's a lot of work that has to be done and they've got to go and do all their calculations and run it through computers."
The red dump truck, with its box open, struck the overhead truss of the Skyway at about 3:40 p.m. Thursday, causing what OPP Sergeant Kerry Schmidt described as "significant damage" to the bridge structure and taking down wood scaffolding that is part of three-year rehabilitation project.
Another truck — a bread truck — and two cars were also damaged in the rush-hour crash, which a Burlington Fire Department spokesperson said happened "right in the centre of the bridge."
The dump truck driver was not hurt. Schmidt said the other truck driver received minor injuries.
Schmidt couldn't say how long the westbound lanes of the bridge would be closed. Structural engineers were gathering at the accident scene Thursday night.
"We don't have any idea how long this will last," Schmidt told The Spectator, adding, "It doesn't look minor."
The accident caused traffic to back up on Hamilton and Burlington streets as motorists sought alternatives to get around the bridge. Police closed the westbound lanes of the QEW at the Red Hill Valley Parkway and diverted traffic onto it. Dozens of people took to social media to tell about heavy traffic on city streets.
"There's so much traffic," said Schmidt. "There is going to be traffic congestion everywhere. We ask everyone to plan for traffic delays and have patience."
Hamilton police said there was a "heavy volume" of traffic in the east end. Burlington Mayor Rick Goldring said traffic was busy, but said it was not severe.
Hamilton city spokesperson Mike Kirkopoulos said the city is getting updates from the transportation ministry. Councillors had expressed concern earlier this year that the construction project could lead to closure of the Toronto-bound lanes and cause traffic chaos. The bridge sees up to 80,000 vehicles a day.
Kirkopoulos said "first responders" have been advised of the congested areas and will be mindful of the traffic congestion when responding to calls. He said the ministry has indicated the cleanup will be "labour intensive."
Keith James had a bad feeling about the dump truck that was travelling beside him in the Toronto-bound lanes of the Skyway.
"The truck passed me and I noticed that his box was up," the Burlington resident told The Spectator.
"I thought 'That doesn't look right.' As I saw him approach the bridge, I started backing off because I thought he was not going to make the bridge and then, sure enough, he hit."
James said about three or four girders were "ripped off" and came down on the other truck. He walked up to the crash scene, but did not get too close because he saw "stuff" dangling overhead and didn't know what was going to fall.
"I couldn't believe what was happening in front of my eyes," said James, who was heading home from his job at National Steel Car in Hamilton.
Mike Jilek was heading home to Toronto after visiting his mother in Niagara Falls. He was several cars behind the dump truck.
"He just hit the top of the bridge and everyone just started braking," he said. "I thought 'What the hell is happening?' The police were there pretty quickly. I couldn't believe how fast they got there."
James, Jilek and several other motorists spent a couple of hours parked behind the accident scene before they were lead down the bridge to access Eastport Drive.
The Niagara-bound lanes on the bridge remained open. The Burlington lift bridge was closed, then reopened, to traffic shortly after the crash. Pleasure craft was stopped by police marine unit for a couple of hours from getting into Burlington Bay.
GO Transit said that due to the crash, its buses are detouring and it is anticipating delays of up to 60 minutes to its service between Niagara Falls and Burlington.
In a separate accident on the westbound lanes of the 403 at the QEW merge, three trucks collided — two tractor-trailers and a five-tonne truck.
Charged is Sukhvinder Singh Rai, with impaired driving and over .08. He is scheduled to appear in court in Hamilton on Aug. 22.
Here are some alternate routes for drivers passing through Hamilton on their way to Burlington, Toronto and beyond:
From east end or Niagara - Take Red Hill Valley Parkway to the Lincoln Alexander – follow to eastbound Hwy 403 which continues to QEW EB towards Toronto - not the best option as traffic is reportedly backed up from Upper Wentworth and the 403 is backed up from Hwy 6 up the Ancaster Hill
Eastport Drive is an option, but heavy congestion and a stalled vehicle at 7 a.m. poses a problem - this runs under the Skyway bridge and can be accessed where the Toronto-bound QEW is closed off
Take a drive through Hamilton - if you are on the Toronto-bound QEW from Niagara exit at Centennial Parkway and exit on Burlington Street. Take Burlington St. westbound to James Street - head south and turn right at York Blvd. Access to the EB 403 will be on your right. Or - from Burlington Street, exit at Wellington Street and take Cannon Street into the west end.
In lower Hamilton, take Cannon Street westbound straight through the city past Bay Street. Turn Left onto Queen Street or even Bay Street and follow to King Street. Turn right and see the ramp for the EB 403.
On the Hamilton Mountain - you may want to avoid the Linc and take an alternate Mountain access into the lower city - options include Kenilworth, Queen Street Hill, and Claremont. There is also Rymal Road and Stone Church Road with direct access to the QEW from Garner Road (Rymal becomes Garner).
Lower city residents may want to utilize Cannon Street to get to the west end as Barton and King are also reportedly at a standstill