When they shut it down
they'll come through town

© 2004 Gordon Alexander

Posted 09.25.04

STANSTEAD, QC | Residents, shop owners, and motorists coming in and out of Canada via the Canadian-US Customs and Immigration border check points here were crying the blues last week.

It happened during a nightmarish two-day traffic gridlock in town created by detours on Route 55 where new bridges are being built over the Tomifobia River to replace the existing structures.

Now, traffic seems to be flowing in a more orderly manner since stop/go lights were put in sync - however, the phones are still ringing off the wall with complaints at Town Hall as residents are still sputtering about the huge trucks tooling through the middle of town.

Heavy southbound truck traffic leaving Canada bound for the US used to line up a mile or more on the Canadian side of the border on Route 55.

Now, the trucks wind down through the middle of Stanstead on Dufferin Street and turn up Notre Dame Boulevard enroute to US customs. This detour by-passes the demolition and reconstruction of the pair of two-lane bridges running north and south over the Tomifobia river.

Work is expected be completed by the end of December this year, according to Michel Croteau, chief of the $5 million construction project for the Province of Quebec's Ministry of Transportation,

Croteau admitted that he underestimated the number of trucks that came through both sides of the border using the bridge: "We didn't expect that there would be so many trucks involved."

Construction work began last week when traffic stops were installed well back from the intersections of Dufferin Street and Notre Dame Blvd to allow for wide swings by the tractor trailers onto those narrow streets.

The big problem is that the mile-long long commercial truck congestion that used to occur out on northbound Route 55 is now happening on the narrow streets of Stanstead as tractor-trailer line up to go through a snails-pace check out at US customs.

These transports are creating a slow-moving wall of 18-wheelers blocking off residents from entering businesses, side streets and private homes along the two main streets in Stanstead.

Initial plans for the project called for the new bridge to be built beneath the old structure, allowing traffic across to and from the border stops unimpeded. According to the Provincial ministry of transport this was impossible because of the unstable soils surrounding the Tomifobia river beneath the structure.

This forced a switch in plans last August, requiring the old bridge be totally demolished before the new one could be built.

According to American customs at Stanstead, they can process anywhere from 75 to 500 trucks on any given day, with Friday and Saturday being the lightest days. Most of the cargo coming into the US is lumber, paper products, and oil.

Stops can be as short as under a minute if the driver has all his books in order and the cargo is not too diversified, according to a US customs spokesman.

The present congestion also includes all trucks and cars coming from the US through Canadian Customs from 1-91 onto Route 55.

This traffic must turn left and creep through Stanstead before they can get back out onto northbound Route 55 on the other side of the Tomifobia bridge construction.

The busiest times of day for this traffic seem to occur between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. as heavy lumber- bearing transport trucks from both Canada and the US try to share Dufferin and Notre Dame while regular non-commercial automobile traffic try to go about their business either in town, or in attempts to get out of town.

When the heavy truck traffic first came to town last week Dianne Vaillancourt, owner of a new drug store on Notre Dame, was totally blocked off both ways, preventing customers from entering or leaving her parking lot.

"They ( the transport trucks) completely closed off the entire road, " she said. "Someone will have to get the trucks to stop before the side streets off the Boulevard. If there is an emergency situation there would be no access off and on these streets for ambulances or fire trucks let alone regular traffic."

"My customers had to wait twenty minutes before they could get onto the boulevard," Vaillancourt said. "Last week I had to direct traffic and stop trucks to at least let my pharmacy customers into and out of our parking lot."

With the entire neighborhood south of the boulevard blocked off local residents could only get out by way of Church and Cordeau Streets, skirting along the US-Canadian border.

Steve's Pizzeria, just off the intersection, was experiencing a drop in business because of the heavy wall of truck traffic that prevents his former customers from parking in front of his restaurant.

This week the town of Stanstead painted no-stop signs on the highway in front of streets, homes, and businesses on both Dufferin and Notre Dame. These signs prohibit the trucks from blocking motor access to driveways and streets as they worm their way to the customs check point.

Stanstead Mayor Raymond Yates and his council are apparently at the mercy of the Quebec Ministry of transport who created the traffic nightmare. They that the town has no control over the situation because the effected routes 247 and 143 are government roads, and not under municipal jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, as winter approaches, ice and snow may intensify the present unpleasant downtown traffic conditions as heavy trucks try to get up enough speed to climb the Dufferin Street hill or try to stop at the traffic light posted on the other side midway down the steep grade.

Meanwhile, most Stanstead residents and those who have to travel through town on a regular basis hope that the Highway Santa keeps his word and finishes the bridges by the end of December, as promised.

The transport truck drivers who have to haul their wares through town on a daily or weekly basis are not too excited about the new traffic scheme, either. According to American customs, some of the truckers have opted to cross in to the US at Norton, Vermont, or Highgate, Quebec, until the new bridge is finished.

Copyright © 2004 Gordon Alexander/Log Cabin Chronicles/09.04