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Tolling Points

Halifax’s Big Lift Bridge Replacement Gains International Attention

By: 
Bill Cramer

“The Big Lift”.

A “pretty big” feat of engineering.

A “great big LEGO set”.

A “tall order”.

A “signature landmark”.

When Canadians decide to replace their bridges, they don’t skimp on the innovation. Or hold back on the metaphors.

When Halifax Harbour Bridges (HHB) took on the redecking of the Macdonald Bridge between Halifax and Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, senior management knew it was taking on a monumental job. But the C$205-million project is on schedule, and a few weeks ago it gained coast-to-coast-to-coast exposure in a 3½-minute video spot on The National, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s flagship news show.

A Signature Landmark

“As suspension bridge engineering feats go, this one’s pretty big,” said CBC reporter Tim Murphy. When the 762-metre (2,500-foot), 46-deck bridge opened on April 2, 1955, it was the second-largest in the British Commonwealth, and “more than just a signature landmark,” he noted. “It was a vital link between Dartmouth and the Halifax peninsula, with its bustling downtown.”

Built more than 60 years ago, on the heels of the post-Second World War boom, “it helped shape the city.”

To this day, the Macdonald Bridge is one of just five access points to the peninsula, and to the region’s biggest city. So as the structure approached the end of its useful life, the only way to minimize the inconvenience for the bridge’s 45,000 daily users—and for the harbor traffic below—was to replace it one piece at a time.

That’s something that had only been done once in the world before -- at Vancouver’s Lion’s Gate Bridge, about 15 years ago. The Lion’s Gate project, as well, involved closing the structure for short time periods at night and replacing it deck by deck.

‘A Great Big LEGO Set’

“It’s essentially a great big LEGO set,” Bridge Engineer John Eppell told CBC. “We’re taking pieces out and replacing them and opening up traffic in between, which is really the difficult part.”

To get the job done, HHB hired the same engineers and contractors who worked on the Lion’s Gate. The sections are fabricated on the Dartmouth side of the harbor by Cherubini Metal Works, a local company that has 150 people working on the project. Each section is floated down the harbor to the bridge. Then a bright yellow gantry crane lowers an old piece into the water and raises the replacement span into place.

“It is a big feat,” Eppell said. “It’s complicated. It’s tricky.”

The CBC report acknowledges some standard hiccups with the project—the commuting days when a span doesn’t move into place in time, bumps along the transition plates that keep the roadway open, and some severe weather that slowed down the work. But HHB expects to complete the replacement on time, and for Eppell, the once-in-a-lifetime project has become a personal commitment.

The bridge “feels like a part of my family,” he told CBC. “It doesn’t feel like an inanimate object.”

Frank Robinson with the Halifax Harbour Bridges recently gave an in depth presentation on the bridge project during IBTTA’s Maintenance and Roadways Operations Workshop in April in Newport, RI.

Kudos and a hat tip to former IBTTA president Steve Snider, CEO and General Manager of Halifax Harbour Bridges, for directing this monumental project.

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