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A bridge so far; 'Third Crossing' is more than halfway finished and on budget, city says

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It’s not until standing on top the bridge deck on the second span, near the west-shore entrance that, after an extensive two-hour tour, one finally gets the sense of what users of the under-construction ‘Third Crossing’ will see once it’s finished.

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Looking toward the east side, you can see where there’ll be a slight curve in the bridge to meet up with Gore Road on the other side, gradually rising to connect to the main span on the other side of the Cataraqui River. Looking west, you’re looking down at the intersection of John Counter Boulevard and Montreal Street that serves as the entry point on the west shore.

On the bridge deck itself, spray-painted lines rough out where the four metre-wide concrete multipurpose walkway will run along the south side of the bridge, where a wall will separate cars from pedestrians, where the two metre-wide shoulder on the road will be, and, of course, where the two vehicle lanes will run.

The as-yet-unnamed bridge — the city has started a name campaign and declared the bridge will have an Indigenous name that “reflects and celebrates the stories and contributions of Indigenous communities in this region” — is the city’s most expensive project since the Ravensview plant in the east end, and one that’s much more in the public eye.

The new bridge, once completed, will be, in fact, the fourth way of crossing the water. The federal government built the LaSalle Causeway in 1917 and links to Highway 2. When the causeway is raised to let boats through, traffic often gets backed up on both sides and means emergency vehicles have to take a different route. About six kilometres to the north, Hwy. 401 — the responsibility of the province — crosses the river. When there’s an accident and the highway is closed, traffic is rerouted through the city, which causes congestion, or to the north, over what many consider the third crossing, the bridge at Kingston Mills, also under the federal government’s purview. The new bridge hopes to solve some of those traffic concerns while making it easier and faster for people to get to the expanding east end of the city.

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The 1.2-kilometre bridge, which is scheduled to open to traffic in late 2022 and be completely finished by 2023, is budgeted at $180 million, with the municipal, provincial and federal governments each contributing $60 million.

“We’re still staying within our $180-million budget. That’s a daily task, to make sure that we do,” explained Mark Van Buren, deputy commissioner, transportation and infrastructure services, engineering for the City of Kingston also doubling as tour guide on this day. He said that he communicates and meets regularly with Kiewit, the general contractors on the project, and all of the different sub-contractors, which allows him to keep on top of things and know where and if there are concerns.

While each level of government contributed the same amount, this is a city-run project, Van Buren said.

The actual construction is the fourth of four phases and the tail end of what has been a process that stretches back a dozen years, he said, and one that has been discussed since long before that.

The bridge is about 60 per cent completed at this point, he said, noting that 55 of the 95 50-foot-long concrete girders have been installed up to now.

Five rows of girders run underneath each section, with extra space between the fourth and fifth girders to accommodate a drainage system. The girders stretch from one concrete pier cap — which sits on top of the two pillars — to the next. In between the pier caps and the girders are elastomeric bearings.

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“(They) basically work to allow for some very subtle horizontal movements in those girders,” Van Buren explained. “You can appreciate how those girders cycle through the hot months in the summer and the cold months in the winter, you get ever so slight expansion and contraction that can be managed by those elastomeric bearings.”

Walking away from the shore and along the temporary causeway — it was the first thing built so that workers could work on the bridge from it — is almost like getting to see the construction process in reverse. Toward the end of the temporary causeway there are still piers under construction, such as pier 12, which will be a little wider than others because it will be home one of two lookouts along the bridge.

Before the pier cap goes on and the girders after, in-water concrete pillars were submerged and secured into the bedrock. Temporary “rock fingers” were first built around where the pillars are installed to allow for the drilling and installation of them.

“Even though the river’s very shallow, we only have maybe about six to seven feet of water depth,” he explained. “To get all the way down to bedrock you’re about 150 feet in some of the deepest locations.”

Those “rock fingers” are removed once the pillars are secured, part of the project’s “clean as you go” approach to minimizing the construction’s environmental impact.

Respecting the environment is an important concern of the project, Van Buren assured. In the temporary causeway are a few openings that allow fish, snakes, muskrats and the like to pass through. There are even barriers to discourage turtles from climbing onto the causeway and turtle crossing signs along to remind workers to keep an eye for them in case they get past the barriers, Van Buren said.

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With all of the drilling involved with the construction, there’s a turbidity curtain — which extend from yellow floats on top of the water down to the bottom of the river — that envelops the bridge work.

“That basically works to make sure that we don’t allow for any of the sediment or turbid water to escape upstream or downstream,” Van Buren said. There are also yellow monitors in the water, similar to a buoy, that measures turbidity and alerts supervisors if those limits are exceeded.

While the west side of the bridge is further along than the east, it’s on the east shore where some of the bridge’s signature work is now being done.

Before getting to the start of the bridge from Gore Road, one can’t help but notice the excavated pit on the north side. That’s where a storm-water pond will go, Van Buren explained. It’s there that runoff from the road improvements happening nearby will be routed, as will snow and rain from the bridge’s drainage system, a unique feature of this bridge, he noted.

It’s on the east side that the main span of the bridge is being built. The steel span — the initial bridge design was to have more steel, but it was changed in 2019 when tariffs on steel were introduced —stretches across the navigation channel of the river.

There will be 6.7 metres — about 22 feet — clearance from the water’s surface to the bottom of the steel span. That height was set by Transport Canada so that it reflects the height limit of other structures as you progress along the Rideau Canal, Van Buren said.

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Unlike the LaSalle Causeway, this bridge will be stationary, and can’t be raised or lowered.

The steel span is one of the reasons the bridge doesn’t go straight across the river from Gore Road to John Counter Boulevard.

“If you did that, you would cross a navigation channel at an angle,” Van Buren explained. “So by introducing that ‘S’ bend, you’re able to cross that navigation channel at as close a right angle as we can.

“The other advantage that (having a curve) gave us was that we could push the landing on the east shore a little bit further to the north to create a little more buffer from the Point St. Mark neighbourhood on that side. And, of course, we had land over there to do that as well.”

“And I think it also gives a little bit of interest to the overall bridge as well.”

As was the case on the west shore, a temporary steel bridge extends from the land alongside the bridge as work continues on the span, which will be comprised of 48 pieces of steel fabricated in and shipped from Hamilton. The temporary causeway features a lift span, which is raised most of the time to allow boat traffic through. It’s only lowered when gigantic girders have to be transported to the east shore.

“Just the other day I was standing on the top of that pier cap right there,” Van Buren said, pointing upwards, “where the edge of the steel is, and then you try to picture yourself standing another six to seven feet above that by the time you get to the top of the steel. Very, very impressive views.”

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As the tour wrapped up, Van Buren noted that, from the highway or from the aerial photos on the project’s website (thirdcrossing.cityofkingston.ca), it would appear that the two sides aren’t far from meeting.

While they may be close, that’s deceiving, suggested Dan Franco, the city’s projects engineer.

“Once the walls go up in an unfinished house, you’re like, ‘Aw, this is going to be so close to being done,’ ” he laughed, “But you still have to do the electric installation, the drywall, all the trim …”

Still, when someone earlier on in the tour noted the progress made on pier 12, Van Buren smiled.

“Now the imagination can pretty much fill it in now.”

phendra@postmedia.com

twitter.com/petehendra

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