Federal Bridge Corporation Ltd.: Securing the Future of the North Channel Bridge

The Federal Bridge Corporation Ltd. (FBCL) is an agency that owns and manages some of the most important, strategic fixed-link crossings in Canada. These structures are vital to the country’s economic network with the world, and FBCL has the responsibility to work with subsidiaries and partners to ensure compliance and alignment with objectives that reflect leading practices that benefit both the public and private sectors. FBCL oversees three international bridge crossings and six total structures in the greater Montreal Metro area, which serve a total of 150 million vehicles every year.

FBCL is currently overseeing the replacement of the North Channel Bridge in Cornwall, Ontario, the Canadian-owned leg of the Three Nations International Crossing that connects New York State and Ontario. The connection serves roughly 2.3 million passenger crossings and over 120,000 commercial crossings every year, making it one of the busiest border crossings between the two countries.

The crossing straddles the St. Lawrence Seaway via the Seaway International Bridge, made up of two separate spans that connect on Cornwall Island. Cornwall Island is technically located within Canada’s borders, but the island is part of the Akwesasne Mohawk Reserve and the Mohawk Nation, making it the third nation involved in the crossing. The South Channel Bridge was the first to open in 1958 and the North Channel Bridge followed in 1962. Both bridges remain safe for today’s traffic, but the high-level structures are unnecessary in light of the fact that both Canadian and U.S. maritime traffic share the U.S. side of the St. Lawrence Seaway.

“The bridges were built so that Canada could build its own seaway, but eventually the two countries came to an agreement to share the American locks,” expands Glenn Hewus, senior vice president of construction and engineering at FBCL. “Unfortunately, by that time both bridges had already been constructed.”

A Critically Important Crossing

The Seaway International Bridge is operated by the Seaway International Bridge Corporation (SIBC), which formed as a joint venture between the Canadian FBCL and the U.S.-based St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation in 1957. The SIBC is thereby charged with managing the international toll system along the Three Nations Crossing, using all proceeds to ensure both sides of the crossing are safe and well maintained. FBCL owns the Canadian leg of the Three Nations Crossing, and the corporation has determined that the North Channel bridges replacement with a lower structure would be more economical to maintain and would provide an extra incentive to expand the crossing’s capacity and create critical employment opportunities.

In charge of oversight and accountability for bridges under its control, FBCL is tasked as project manager overseeing the North Channel Bridge’s replacement. Canadian officials ruled out the possibility of closing the North Channel Bridge for construction early on, given the bridge’s high traffic volume. Instead, FBCL opted to split up the bridge’s replacement into four separate phases, building a $75-million replacement bridge adjacent the existing one to minimize downtime between the existing bridge’s closure and the new bridge’s commissioning. The new bridge is being built just a few feet from the original structure, albeit at a lower height, which allows FBCL to minimize roadway realignment and bring the bridge into operation as quickly and painlessly as possible.

Tapping into the Experience of a Nation

The first phase involves the construction of all in-water works, including the construction of three new bridge piers. The second phase will see the construction of the actual bridge structure and the ancillary approaches. Demolition of the existing bridge will take place in Phase Three, with the final and fourth phase consisting of all roadway realignment to be completed in 2016. The Government of Canada will fund the project in its entirety.

“Each phase will be tendered using the MERX public tendering platform, which allows us to upload all the related documents for review by contractors across Canada,” adds Hewus. FBCL awarded Phase One to American Bridge Canada Company (American Bridge), a vertically integrated specialist in the construction, engineering manufacture and erection of logistically complex structures.

“This was FBCL’s first time working with American Bridge, but it went very smoothly actually,” admits Hewus. “They’re a very well-organized team that worked very effectively and efficiently to deliver the job on time and within our awarded contract value.”

Paving the Way for Canada’s future

FBCL tapped AECON, Canada’s largest publicly traded construction company, to oversee the second phase of work, having worked with the company in the past. “All projects have challenges, but to date, all of the teams have done a wonderful job and the process has actually been very gratifying,” adds Hewus.

The contract for Phase Three will likely be released for tender sometime in 2013, according to Hewus’ estimates, but FBCL will have plenty to keep its employees busy in the meantime. Transport Canada announced PricewaterhouseCoopers as lead financial, technical and engineering service firm for the construction of a new bridge over the St. Lawrence that would connect the island of Montreal to the South Shore that will be built adjacent the deteriorating Champlain Bridge, the busiest crossing in Canada for trucks, cars and buses. Structural surveys concluded in 2010 that bridge was functionally deficient and a new bridge received the go-ahead in 2011 from the Honourable Denis Lebel, Minister of Transport.

The completion of these infrastructure improvements will secure the future Canada’s international trade and transportation, and throughout all activity Federal Bridge Corporation Ltd. remains diligent to ensure every decision made saves taxpayers money and facilitates smooth, safe commutes for generations to come.