Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bridges and Interchanges

As mentioned a couple posts ago, the city continues to grow and is currently undergoing some major infrastructure upgrades. Chief among these for the past several months has been the construction of a third bridge over the Athabasca and two new interchanges at the foot of Thickwood Boulevard and Confederation Way.

The new bridge, which will handle all northbound traffic over the river, has been under construction ever since we moved here. Back then, I recall seeing only the concrete supports in the water. I wasn't 100% sure when the new bridge would be ready and had caught wind that it would be ready by the end of the month. It turns out they were slightly ahead of schedule as Lisa told was able to drive on it for the first time yesterday. The new 5-lane Athabasca River Bridge boasts the largest road deck in the province measuring 472m long and 30m wide. The new bridge is also quite significant for the oil sands projects north of town and is designed to carry some pretty hefty loads. While a typical bridge in Alberta is designed to support a load of 800 tons, this new bridge will be able to handle a 28-axle 1.1 million kilogram overload vehicle. That's some heavy hauling!

The remaining two bridges will also be getting some TLC which is due to be completed in 2013 and 2014 depending on the bridge. The Ralph Steinhauer Bridge (the middle bridge) will be widened to I believe 5 lanes and will reverse direction when completed to become a south-bound bridge. The Grant MacEwan Bridge will be rebuilt, lowered, and have its trestles removed and will provide easier access to MacDonald Island. It will be sad to see the changes to this piece of local history but at the same time it will do wonders as it will help ease the flow of traffic flowing onto Franklin Avenue, our main drag.

Here you can see a photo taken last fall I believe of the construction. It's hard to believe how different it looks already. I actually had to look at this picture for several seconds to get my bearings.

In addition to all the bridge work, there are also 2 interchanges being constructed north of the river to improve traffic flow and provide better access to the Thickwood and Timberlea subdivisions.  Thickwood, like me, is a child of the '70's and Timberlea has more than doubled in size since I first passed through Fort McMurray in the early 2000's.  Collectively, they are home to close to 50,000 people.  With the addition of Wood Buffalo, Eagle Ridge and Stone Creek areas, the two access roads leading to this part of town see a pretty phenomenal amount of traffic.  Commuting times can be a headache at times.  (Case in point, while it usually takes my bus about 40 minutes to travel the 30-0r-so kilometres from Suncor to Thickwood, the ride home this evening took a just over 2 hours.  Yes, there are many here that will be happy when all this new infrastructure is in place.)

Like the bridge work, work on these interchanges has been going on even before we moved to the area.  Over the course of the past year I've had the opportunity to see the progress being made on my travels to and from site.  Last fall, the Thickwood overpass was put in place and the Timberlea one followed suit this past summer.  

Below you can see a conceptual drawings of both interchanges.

If I recall correctly, they will both be up and running toward the end of summer 2012 if all goes according to plan. The kids look forward to driving on them for the first time. And so do I!