Bridge gets ma­jor over­haul


A roughly 10 me­tre seg­ment hung in the fog over Hal­i­fax Har­bour on Sun­day to fill the 46th and fi­nal gap in the decades-old MacDon­ald Bridge in time for tens of thou­sands of cars to cross the bridge Mon­day morn­ing.

On most days since 2015, when the work­day ended, con­struc­tion on the Macdon­ald Bridge started. The 1.3-kilo­me­tre sus­pen­sion bridge has been re­fit­ted piece by piece with al­most an en­tirely new deck over the span of al­most two years while still al­low­ing peo­ple to com­mute be­tween Hal­i­fax and the city’s sprawl­ing suburbs from dawn to dark on week­days.

The re­deck­ing phase of the “Big Lift” project on the Macdon­ald Bridge marked the sec­ond time that an en­tire sus­pended struc­ture has been re­placed while al­low­ing about tens of thou­sands of cross­ings on an av­er­age work­day since the re­deck­ing process was pi­o­neered on the Lion’s Gate Bridge in Van­cou­ver more than a decade ago, ac­cord­ing to a spokesper­son for the au­thor­ity that man­ages the bridges in Hal­i­fax.

“Peo­ple have de­scribed this as a once-in-a-life­time kind of project,” said Ali­son MacDon­ald of Hal­i­fax Har­bour Bridges.

“It’s an en­gi­neer­ing feat, no doubt about it. We are es­sen­tially tak­ing the bridge apart every week­end and then putting it back to­gether for peo­ple to drive over the next morn­ing.”

Since 2015, the bridge has been closed pe­ri­od­i­cally on week­ends while crews spliced the sus­pended struc­ture into about 10 to 20-me­tre-long sec­tions that were low­ered onto trucks or barges in the har­bour. New deck seg­ments were swapped in with lift­ing gantry to close the hole in the bridge be­fore rush-hour traf­fic.

“We’re thrilled to have reached this mile­stone,” says MacDon­ald. “It’s a source of pride for peo­ple in the city that we’ve man­aged to pull off a project of this scope.”

Known lo­cally as “the old bridge,” the Macdon­ald Bridge is one of two struc­tures link­ing Hal­i­fax and Dart­mouth. The sus­pen­sion bridge has been worn down by about 34 mil­lion cross­ings per year since its 1955 con­struc­tion, says MacDon­ald, lead­ing to con­cerns that the cor­rod­ing floor beams could pose a safety risk in the fu­ture.

The pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment is­sued a more than $200-mil­lion loan to re­fur­bish the bridge, which MacDon­ald says will be paid back through toll fares.

The re­deck­ing phase of the con­struc­tion project was orig­i­nally sched­uled to be com­pleted last fall but progress has been stalled by heady winds and poor weather, says MacDon­ald.

“The bridge is at its most vul­ner­a­ble when there’s a hole in it, so wind was our en­emy in this project,” says MacDon­ald. “When it rains, it rains side­ways ... At time we had to stop work be­cause it wasn’t safe to do so.”

MacDon­ald says this week­end’s “ma­jor mile­stone” should bring an end to rou­tine week­end clo­sures, but the bridge will still be shut down from 7:00 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. Sun­day through Thurs­day as work con­tin­ues on other parts of the span.

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