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Major bridge overhaul in Newfoundland

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October 1, 2013 by PATRICK CALLAN

The future of transportation in Newfoundland appears to be on solid ground thanks to a hefty investment by the provincial government to replace or rehabilitate well over a dozen ailing bridges as part of its overall infrastructure improvement strategy. 

Promising to follow through on a lengthy list of priority projects for 2013, Newfoundland’s Department of Transportation and Works has handed out a number of tenders for bridge work this year, including six in July.

With a combined contract value of more than $3.5 million, the recent tenders will see Main Point and Gull Island bridges replaced, while several others are being rehabilitated: Big Sandy River, Parsons Pond, North Harbour River, Little Salmonier River, Horwood River and Curtis Causeway.

Earlier this year, a $40.6-million contract was awarded for a new lift bridge in Placentia, and tenders were issued for Outer Cove Brook, Lilly Pond and Epworth Timber bridges.

But the list doesn’t end there. 

Tenders have been called to replace the English Harbour Bridge with a single lane 36-metre single span panel type bridge; the Traverse Book Bridge, which calls for a two-lane, 36-metre concrete girder bridge; and construction of new approaches to the Sir Robert Bond Bridge.

And replacement of three others—Barry’s Brook, Shoe Cove North and O’Donnels bridges—are planned and tenders will be called later in the year, says Transportation and Works Minister Paul Davis.

“Bridge replacements and repairs play a significant role in our overall infrastructure improvement strategy,” he says.

So far this year $32 million has been invested in bridge works, and over the past four years, more than $107 million has been spent on repairs to 105 structures.

Davis says the provincial government’s spending will exceed $866 million on infrastructure projects in 2013: helping to fuel local economies, companies and communities.

The projects have created 5,330 person years of employment, and the revenue generated will be invested in all regions of Newfoundland and Labrador’s roads, bridges, marine services, health, education, municipal works, buildings and aquaculture. 

New lift bridge in Placentia 

The provincial government’s largest single investment in a bridge project this year—$20.6 million—went to replacing the Sir Ambrose Shea Lift Bridge in Placentia.

The work is being carried out through a joint venture between H.J. O’Connell Construction Ltd. and Vancouver Pile Driving Ltd. The contract was awarded in March, work began in May and the entire project will be complete in the spring of 2016. There are currently eight staff and 13 craft workers working on the project, which is in the procurement phase.

Darryl Gillingham, director of operations at H.J. O’Connell, explains the extent of the work involved in the project: “The first thing we had to do was mobilize the site and then demolish existing boat buildings and houses,” he says, which took about two weeks.

The next step was securing materials, mostly to build two temporary trestles: one on the north and one on the south to be able to access the center piers. That will allow workers to maneuver a 150-ton crane on top of the trestle to access the center piers to do the piling, concrete work and eventually install the structural steel on the bridge.

Gillingham says that was done to maintain the channel underneath the existing bridge so the boat traffic could come in and out of the harbour. So far, the south trestle and the sheet piling for the cofferdam of the abutment are built.

The project also calls for north and south abutments and piers; work has started on the south pier and work on the north side will start in the weeks and months to come.

After that, the crew will put in templates to be able to drive the sheet piles for the cofferdams, dig out the material inside the cofferdams and drive the pipe piles—which is going to be the substructure for the bridge.

The cofferdams will be filled with concrete to bring it up to the bearing pads of where the structural steel part of the bridge will sit on the concrete substructure.

Once the civil work is done by next spring, the structural steel will be put into place and the mechanical and electrical portions of the bridge will begin. “That will take up most of next year,” says Gillingham. 

In addition to the bridge, a concrete control house for the bridge operators to sit in during daily operations is being built.

A project of this magnitude requires continuous planning by the construction team at every step along the way. “A lot of coordination efforts are required to ensure all of the pieces fit together and are sequenced such that construction continues in an efficient manner.”

And it’s not without its challenges. 

Gillingham says there is limited information on the geotechnical and subsurface conditions because only a very small report has been done on that area. Right now they do not know if the subsurface conditions they will be driving piles into are soft or hard. “On top of that we’re working with water.” 

Dealing with the tidal range and swift currents, which vary from eight to 10 feet between high and low tide, has proved to be quite tricky. “Working in all these conditions you’re working basically blindly trying to place piles and eventually concrete.” 

In a remote province like Newfoundland, simply procuring materials like the large amounts of steel and piling required for the project can be difficult, he says, and there’s always the issue of “finding qualified, skilled labour.”

Once the colder weather arrives, workers will have to contend with heavy snowfall and strong winds—which could prove to be one of the biggest challenges ahead. “Especially when we start on the piers and we’re trying to place 90-feet long sheet piles in very tight specifications and tolerances.”

After the new bridge and the approaches are built, it will need to be commissioned before the project shifts to the last phase: decommissioning the Sir Ambrose Shea Lift Bridge in either late 2015 or early 2016. 

“Commissioning in this sense means that everything is working properly and the way it should—there’s no glitches and nothing that’s not unexpected.”

In terms of decommissioning the Sir Ambrose Shea Lift Bridge, the center stand will be taken out first, then the steel off the approaches, and finally the piers and abutments will be taken out. “Basically in reverse order as to what we’re building,” he says.

Gillingham says overall, the project is on schedule and everything is going according to plans. “We’re just going to continue with the work through the winter and see where it goes.”

Main Point Bridge 

A project that will wrap up just in time for winter is replacing the Main Point Bridge on Newfoundland’s Route 332.

Trident Construction Lt
d. began replacing the wooden bridge with a two span multi-plate culvert in mid-July. The $1-million project is expected to be complete by the end of October.

Dan Spracklin, Trident’s general manager, says it’s not your typical bridge. “Traditionally you think of a bridge to be concrete or steel or something like that, but this one is a bit different.”

Since the bridge is on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, they chose to build it using corrugated aluminum because it offers more corrosion resistance than steel in a saltwater environment and allows for a longer service life—about 75 years.

Before starting on the bridge workers needed to put in a traffic diversion, and a river diversion because the new structure is going where the old one was. Next they had to dig out for the footings. “This structure, just because of the location and nature of the soil underneath, is actually going to be on steel piles,” says Spracklin.

Piles were driven into bedrock about 30 feet down because a layer of clay-like material wouldn’t support the weight of the structure through traditional footings. 

“Theoretically the whole ground around it could [give] out and the structure would still be sitting there on the steel piles,” he says.

As for challenges, Spracklin says things haven’t been too bad so far, but getting started was the hardest part. “When you’re dealing with water and rivers it’s always a bit of a crapshoot.”

The remainder of the project will be the “less risky” part. “When you’re working down below river level and you haven’t really got anything to work from—other than earth, which is always risky if you get a flood—once you get some piles in and the concrete poured you’re not likely to have a real catastrophic event,” he says.

The bulk of the remaining work will be putting together the culverts and backfilling.

“We will actually have the bridge open before the project is finished because of the nature of it, but when you’re working on rivers and stuff like that you want to get it done as early as you can before hurricane season.”

What projects are on deck?

With about 10,000 kilometres of roads and highways in Newfoundland and Labrador’s vast transportation network, plenty of work remains to be done, says Minister Davis.

In terms of bridge inventory there are currently 1,134 structures, which includes bridges and culverts larger than 3 meters wide, in the province. 

Although bridge projects play a significant role in the overall transportation improvement plans each year, some projects will take priority over others based on comprehensive biannual inspections.

“With so many structures in our inventory, we do have long list of structures that require attention,” he says.

Another issue is not every tender issued receives bidders—a challenge that’s not uncommon during periods when the economy is booming, as is currently the case in Newfoundland.

However, Davis is confident the province’s best days are still ahead and the economy will continue to ride the tide for years to come.

In addition, his ministry is receiving more than $77 million through agreements with the federal government to help pay for many of Newfoundland’s upcoming infrastructure projects such as replacing Little Barachois Brook Bridge, Robinsons River Bridge and E.S. Spencer Bridge.

“The long list of improvements being made by the provincial government will provide a safer transportation system throughout our province into the future,” he says. 

Patrick Callan is On-Site’s assistant editor. Send comments to pcallan@on-sitemag.com

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