NEWS
08/05/2011 04:01 EDT | Updated 10/05/2011 05:12 EDT

Montreal tunnel where concrete collapsed expected to reopen on Saturday

MONTREAL - A major downtown Montreal tunnel where huge slabs of concrete fell onto the roadway is expected to reopen to traffic on Saturday.

Quebec Transport Minister Sam Hamad says after some last-minute work is completed, the tunnel will undergo a final inspection by engineers before vehicles are allowed through.

Hamad told a news conference late Friday afternoon that the information he got from the engineers says the tunnel can probably be reopened on Saturday.

"Of course, I say that on condition that we don't have any surprises."

Hamad originally said the tunnel would be reopened in time for Monday's return of 150,000 construction workers from their annual two-week vacation.

The tunnel on the Ville-Marie expressway passes under the heart of the city and has been closed since last Sunday morning.

Nobody was injured in the accident which occurred at a time when traffic is generally much lighter than a normal weekday.

Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois says the government has to take part of the responsibility for the collapse.

She points out it was the province which awarded contracts to private firms for repair work she described as questionable.

"She came late to this situation," Hamad said, noting that Marois had been on vacation when the near-catastrophe happened.

He also told reporters that a special team is in Montreal looking at all job sites to make sure the work is proceeding properly.

Hamad says the government is putting in place everything that's needed to keep its installations secure.

"We had a bad accident which we regret and now we're trying to learn from this accident," he said.

"We are trying to improve our methods and we are trying to do better than what we're doing now."

The Quebec transport minister has had a rough ride since last weekend's tunnel collapse.

He received widespread ridicule for saying Quebecers can have faith that, if a road is open, it's safe.

He also resisted calls to release engineering studies on old infrastructure in the city, before finally relenting.

Quebec Premier Jean Charest, who was out of the country when the collapse occurred, came to his embattled minister's defence on his return.