The Pickering GO Transit Station: Constructing a Pedestrian Walkway in Toronto’s Suburb

The Greater Toronto Area is a busy region of more than 5 million residents, many of whom travel by public transit. Eventually Metrolinx GO Transit found itself with a challenge at its Pickering station in the suburbs of Toronto: south side parking ran out, and not only did it need to lease space on the north side, it had to get riders across a major intersection and rail lines. The solution: a new pedestrian bridge.

The fully enclosed 240-metre structure crosses 14 lanes of Highway 401 traffic and rail lines to get commuters to their station. While that sounds like a daunting build, Aplus General Contractors Corp. (Aplus) gladly took on the $22 million, two-phase project, which was partially supported by Infrastructure Ontario stimulus funding.

Aplus, founded in 1996 by Peter Martins and Naji Kamalledine, is a well-regarded player in Ontario that works primarily in the government sector, and the company’s employees understand the attitude, time, budget and permitting concerns integral to such an undertaking as the Pickering pedestrian bridge. The company also worked on the LEED-certified GO Transit station attached to the bridge a couple of years ago.

Aplus kept the detailed project on time and on track through a combination of experienced project management and an efficient, professional team assembled to execute global leader and Fortune 500 company AECOM’s design. It’s fully enclosed glass on two sides, and a suspended concrete walkway with a roof. Basically, an enclosed cube that’s not climatized, but that makes it sound much simpler than it was. The company self-performs some of the work in house and relies on vendors and subcontractors for the rest.

The build was a lump-sum bid, and when it’s a lump-sum bid for the government agencies, they’re public tenders, there’s very little control of who gives you pricing. Given the nature of the job, most of the trades that bid on the job were big enough. They had to go with bigger companies. Reputable companies. And for the most part the job went without a hitch.

Multiple Choices

The bridge was built in six sections and two phases. One of the biggest challenges was that each section had to adhere to a completely different set of rules, as each crossed different lines of transit. The first two sections crossed the railway track, which is the purview of GO Transit and Canadian National Rail. Sections three, four and five span actual highway, which is administrated by the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO). The last section, which spans a local road, is governed by the city of Pickering, a local township. Each section had different permit applications, and a different set of rules.

The difficult part was getting all of these people in line. But the beauty of it is that Aplus worked for a single owner, GO Transit, now known as Metrolinx. The company worked with them and sent info to them and they’d coordinate with other players, but the reality was different rules for different properties.

Another difference was height requirements for the different transits, which results in the bridge sloping from south to north. The south end, it was 7.2 metres due to double-decker trains. And the north end was only 4.5 to 4.6 metres in height.

Making Night Moves

Phase 1, the actual build of the six foundational sections crossing the highway, is complete, and the bridge is currently open for use. Phase 2, which involves wrapping the bridge in special futuristic-looking panels, is ongoing and expected to be finished in 2013.

For the cladding Aplus is using a new product in Canada. It’s perforated aluminum panels, about five feet in width. The idea is to wrap the bridge like a giant worm. It has undulations, up and down and in and out on the sides. It’s very good for deflecting snow loads; it prevents snow build up, otherwise large chunks of ice will be falling on the cars. Also, it just looks good.

Another big challenge was timing. When exactly is a good time to build over a busy highway and train tracks? Aplus had a very small window – 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. – to do that work. The second phase featured major spans of roughly 30 to 40 metres. Each span was shipped from a small township in two sections and welded on site. They were put on a flatbed, and lifted into place after traffic slowed down at 1 a.m. Then the road was vacuumed so no metal was left to damage cars. If a crane made an indentation, Aplus had to know how to repair it. MTO has all kinds of requirements, so all the plan Bs for road repair were in place if needed.

GO Time

With the prepurchased bridge sections in hand, and all codes and regulations and safety concerns addressed, Aplus got immediately to work, because, as builders know, time is the boss of any project. Any job that is successful is the one that No. 1 starts on time, and No. 2 finishes on time. And to make sure this happens, a key element is managing the changes. There are always scope changes, and owners deciding to do things differently after they’ve got the job started. Aplus had to build relations with the consulting team, owner, etc. And it had to build a relationship to be able to move forward – even if it’s agree to disagree – to get the job done.

With those relationships and a collaborative approach established, Aplus General Contractors Corp. has kept the new Pickering pedestrian bridge right on schedule, providing GO Station patrons with functional – and increasingly stylish – access to the city’s transportation infrastructure.