During a Wednesday press conference, Cotterill explained that the city is doing its best to mitigate the effects of this summer’s repairs, which have proven to be a necessary evil.
“We have to have it done before November,” he said. “It’s pretty hard to do in the winter — some of the stuff we have to do.”
The key motivator behind this summer’s repairs is the crack found in the bridge last August — a crack that resulted in lane closures through to December and weight restrictions of varying degrees until March.
“The potential’s there for at least 100 other locations where that can occur,” Cotterill noted. “We want to get that fixed, and at the same time we might as well do some other structural repairs.”
These repairs will come in various forms, resulting in occasional lane closures.
The first lane closure will take place later this month, when the northbound lanes will close, with all traffic diverted to the two southbound lanes.
Such lane closures are unavoidable, Cotterill explained, particularly while contractors work on plates and bearings under the bridge.
“You literally have to jack the bridge, do the repair, and then put the bridge down, so that’s why we end up having to go to two lanes at some periods of time,” Cotterill explained.
“Part of the problem, too, is that we do not want to have work occurring underneath sections of the bridge while trucks are going over those sections, so it’s important for us to take those sections and close those lanes down.”
Additional work will include repairs to concrete on the top of the bridge and repairs to expansion joints, which enable the bridge to expand and contract as the temperature changes.
Although Cotterill promises minimal lane closures while these repairs take place, sporadic lane closures from next week to November will be unavoidable.
One exception will be the August long weekend, during which time the bridge will remain fully open.
“We have asked the contractor not to work during the long weekend, so the Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday they will not be working,” Cotterill said.
“There will be weekends, though, when they have to work because of the crews that are coming in from out of town … We’re going to try and minimize the lane closures as much as we can.”
Summer weight restrictions on the bridge, which crippled the transportation industry during the months following the crack found in August, shouldn’t be a concern.
“Right now, our ultimate goal is to have no weight restrictions on the bridge while the work is going ahead,” Cotterill said.
Since the crack was found in August, the city has stepped up its monitoring of the bridge.
Right now, our ultimate goal is to have no weight restrictions on the bridge while the work is going ahead. - City manager Robert Cotterill
Although legislation dictates it needs to be inspected every two years, it’s now being inspected every two weeks, even more closely than in the past.
With new scaffolding under the bridge, they’ve gained the ability to walk under the bridge, providing a closer view of its undercarriage.
A local resident spotted August’s crack while canoeing under the bridge, about one year after its last inspection.
“It’s easier for our inspectors to come in on a biweekly basis and actually monitor under the bridge, and they have been doing that,” Cotterill said.
This closer view has been beneficial, he noted, with one small failure mechanism having reared its ugly head.
“It was a weld and we’ve been monitoring that to see why and to make sure that it did not propagate into the girder, which as of today it has not.”
Although owned by the City of Prince Albert, the bridge’s inclusion in the Urban Highway Connector Program ensures the provincial government covers its repairs.
This summer’s repairs will come at a cost of about $3 million.
Highways and Infrastructure Minister Don McMorris weighed in on the expenditure in a press release issued by the city during Wednesday’s press conference.
“The province is committed to paying 100 per cent of the girder repair costs and will invest an estimated $3 million to fix the Diefenbaker bridge to ensure its safe use,” he said.
“We understand the importance of the Diefenbaker bridge and we’re pleased to work in partnership with the City of Prince Albert to get the job done.”
Tentative schedule of repairs
• July 16 - 20 — Walkway handrail and anchor repair is to be completed. No lane closures are required.
• July 23 - 29 — Both northbound lanes will be closed for street repair and work on centre girders.
• July 30 - Aug. 2 — Both southbound lanes will be closed for street repairs and work on the centre girder.
• Aug. 3 - 6 — No lane closures for the long weekend.
• Aug. 7 - ? — Work will recommence on the southbound lanes. It is expected two lanes will be closed.
• Until November — Work will remain ongoing. Lane closures are expected through the months of August and September. Further updates will be provided when available.