MONTREAL - A huge concrete slab fell Sunday on a major expressway that runs under downtown Montreal, the latest in a series of incidents that point to the city's crumbling infrastructure.
No one was injured in the collapse in the Ville-Marie tunnel, but the incident could have had disastrous consequences if it had occurred on a weekday at the same time, during bumper to bumper rush hour traffic, police said.
"Our officers arrived at the scene and we verified and made sure that no one was stuck underneath the rubble," Daniel Thibaudeau, spokesman for Quebec provincial police, told reporters Sunday.
About 100,000 vehicles use the expressway during an average weekday, according to Transport Quebec.
Construction workers, who had been doing repairs on the walls of the tunnel, were the first to report the incident.
One worker, who asked not to be identified, said he thought the vibrations from the repairs may have led to the collapse.
The fallen structure measured about 15 metres long in total, and was composed of several concrete blocks designed to prevent glare as drivers entered the tunnel.
Officials with Transport Quebec, along with emergency crews, were at the scene Sunday trying to figure out what happened.
By late afternoon, dozens of curious bystanders had gathered on the sidewalk along the expressway to view the damage.
The falling concrete is just the latest in a series of infrastructure problems on the city's roads and bridges.
The emergency construction work on two crucial city arteries _ the Champlain Bridge and the Turcot Interchange _ has led to nightmarish traffic jams at odd hours, even in the dead of summer.
The incident on Sunday also brought back memories of the 2006 collapse of a highway overpass in nearby Laval, which killed five people and injured several more.
A spokeswoman for Transport Quebec tried to reassure Montreal drivers, saying the provincial government regularly inspects the city's transportation infrastructure and has invested $4 billion this year alone.
"We won't open this piece of infrastructure until we know it's safe," Caroline Larose told reporters gathered near the expressway.
Dr. Helen Christodoulou, a Montreal engineer and an expert on bridges, said the latest incident is proof that not enough has been done in Quebec since the 2006 overpass collapse.
Following the collapse, the province conducted a major review of the province's bridges and overpasses, promising to make any repairs necessary.
"It's very clear that the house needs order," Christodoulou said in an interview.
"If this had gone during a peak traffic time, you would have had an additional loss of life."
But the falling concrete also points to the major challenges ahead across Canada, as the country struggles to upgrade its aging roads, bridges and sewers.
Montreal's longtime mayor Gerald Tremblay said he has been pushing for more assistance from the federal and provincial government for a decade as part of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
"This isn't a situation particular to Montreal," he told reporters.