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Damaged LaSalle Causeway leaving behind major losses for tourism in Kingston, Ont.

Cruise ship operators say the extended closure of the LaSalle Causeway in Kingston has had a multi-million dollar impact on local tourism.

The crossing over the Cataraqui River connects drivers and pedestrians in the east end of Kingston to downtown, but it’s also the southern terminus of the Rideau Canal system, connecting marine traffic to the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. Part of the causeway was damaged in March during routine construction. The federal government initially said it would repair the bridge, but now it says it must be demolished.

Eric Ferguson, of Kingston Thousand Island Cruises, says the entire spring season has been lost to the closure.

“At this point, the economic impact for Kingston as estimated by the Kingston Accommodation Partners is over $20 million,” Ferguson told CTV News Ottawa.

Ferguson said the news of the demolition came much later than hoped, but it does offer some sign that boats could move again this summer.

“Yesterday’s news was positive in a way, because it gave a path forward for us to get out of the inner harbor and start operating,” he said.

Work to demolish the bridge could begin as early as next week, but it’s likely more than a month before marine traffic can resume.

“They’re saying that that bridge is going to reopen to marine traffic in July,” Ferguson said. “By that point, we’re past the Canada Day weekend. We’re past our entire spring season.”

Meanwhile, businesses in Kingston are trying to get by without the usual traffic from cruise ships.

“Without our full fleet here on the wharf, this is still very impactful. And then you think about, as well, all of the hotel room nights, restaurant reservations and so on that depend on these cruises operating,” Ferguson said.

It’s also affecting the Rideau Canal boating season.

“The Rideau Canal is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it is now completely cut off from the world for all but the smallest recreational boats,” said Ferguson. “That means that people have planned trip of a lifetime, a great loop trip up around through the Rideau Canal system, and they are now unable to take those trips at this point.”

Meantime, drivers in Kingston, who cannot cross the bridge, say the extended closure has added to their commutes.

“Lots of traffic,” said Brad Williams, who works in Kingston. “The morning is not too bad for us, but usually the drive home is excessive.”

The government is developing a plan to restore vehicle and pedestrian traffic through a temporary modular bridge while developing preliminary design work to advance the construction of a new replacement bridge. The timeline and cost of that project is still unclear.

Minister for Public Services and Procurement Canada Jean-Yves Duclos told reporters on Wednesday that he expects a temporary fix to be made quickly. 

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