There’s an old Jerry Lewis movie called “Don’t Raise the Bridge, Lower the River.” That option wasn’t available to Pomerleau when it took on the rehabilitation of the Heron Road Bridge in Ottawa, but Project Manager Joel Laflamme says the company has been very successful in attempting the tricky task of jacking the bridge deck up, thanks to its strong engineering resources. Combined with the company’s past experience and skills, Laflamme says the project is well on track to be completed on time. 

The Heron Road Bridge passes over the Rideau River and the Rideau Canal, connecting Baseline and Heron roads in Ottawa. The bridge was constructed in 1966, and became notorious for an incident where the partially completed south span of the bridge collapsed due to a lack of diagonal bracing, killing nine construction workers. The current project is a complete rehabilitation of the bridge, with one of the most significant aspects being a seismic retrofitting to bring the bridge up to new construction standards. 

Pomerleau came to the project already having a reputation as one of Canada’s most distinguished contractors, with more than 45 years of experience in the infrastructure and civil sectors. 

Higher Ground

The scope of the work needed on the Heron Road Bridge has been significant, Laflamme says. The retrofit of the bridge called for everything from the complete replacement of the abutments to new sidewalks, barrier walls, railings and new electrical systems for street lights. “It was quite an overhaul for the structure,” Laflamme says. 

All the bridge’s bearings needed to be replaced with new seismic isolation bearings, which required the deck to be raised by 10 inches so that the bearings could be removed and replaced. “I would have to say that the most challenging aspect of the project and the one that was the most schedule-dependent was the bridge jacking to replace the bearings,” Laflamme says. “It was a huge activity.”

Pomerleau brought 60 200-ton, five 130-ton and five 90-ton jacks to the site for an entire month to raise the deck. However, it wasn’t as simple a matter as jacking up a car to remove a flat tire. Laflamme says the company was only allowed a certain difference between jacking points, meaning the work had to be done very slowly. “We had to do this in three-fourths-of-an-inch increments, so that’s a lot of increments to get to 10 inches,” he says. 

Another significant portion was the installation of seismic dampers, which were installed between the suspended span decks and the post-tension span decks. “After that was all done, we did some external post-tensioning using a fairly new system,” Laflamme says. 

The external post-tensioning was accomplished through the use of carbon fiber strips that were epoxied directly to the concrete and simultaneously tensioned into place. Laflamme says this was only the second time the system has been used in North America. 

The first phase of the project was completed in November as the north bridge has been reopened to traffic. Pomerleau is in the midst of preparing to begin the second phase of the project, which involves the south bridge. Because the south bridge is virtually identical to the north bridge, Laflamme says the company will learn from its experiences and develop a streamlined schedule. 

Fully Prepared

The biggest reason for the project’s success so far has been Pomerleau’s combination of experience and expertise, Laflamme says, adding that it has a strong engineering department and experience managing resources. 

Laflamme says this gives the company the ability to spot and solve problems during the design phase that other contractors wouldn’t see until they had to deal with them in the field. With the challenging nature of the Heron Road Bridge retrofit project, this experience has proven to be invaluable, Laflamme says.

“We came to the job site prepared with a qualified staff to do the job,” he says.

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