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Ottawa, Canada

Vimy Memorial Bridge

A New Landmark Bridge in Ottawa, Canada

The Rideau River divides the east and west parts of the city of Ottawa, which are connected by several roadway arterials. The new Vimy Memorial Bridge—designed by Parsons—completes the missing link on a new major arterial. It cuts the 9.3-mi distance between the two adjacent arterials in half, diminishing travel time between the community of Barrhaven and the rapidly growing community of Riverside South by 16 minutes while reducing traffic congestion on other traffic arteries.

The new bridge crosses the Rideau River at a location that is part of the Rideau Canal System, a recognized National Historic Site in Canada and a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) world heritage site. These important historic and cultural attributes, as well as the need for environmental sensitivity for a protected waterway rich in wildlife, called for an innovative and inspirational bridge design that would also meet the functional requirements that demanded a bridge deck the size of a football field.

Unique Design—The First of its Kind in North America

Spanning a 262-ft-wide waterway, the Vimy Memorial Bridge has a 133-ft-wide deck cross section comprised of 4 general purpose lanes, 2 auxiliary turning lanes, 2 dedicated transit lanes, 2 on-road cycling lanes, and sidewalks in each direction. To downplay the magnitude of the bridge, Parsons’ award-winning design separated the roadways from each other and from the sidewalks on either side, creating 3 open-air slots within the bridge, allowing light to substantially penetrate the deck across its full length and at several locations across its width. These slots accommodate the steel tubular triple arches along the 410-ft main span, which support the suspended deck using inclined hangers. This unique design is the first of its kind in North America.

Construction on Land to Minimize Environmental Impacts

The Rideau River forms the historically significant and protected waterway of the Rideau Canal. It is home to various wildlife species and is a recreational waterway used by the general public extensively during the summer months. For these reasons, it was very important to minimize the impact on the water habitat and recreational users.

The majority of the bridge superstructure (80%) was constructed on land at the east approach and then launched across the Rideau River into its final position over the foundations and thrust blocks. It was then lowered approximately 16 ft to align with the arch end segments that were already loosely anchored in position on the thrust blocks.

To facilitate the bridge launch, a temporary structure was erected over the river to support the bridge as it rolled across. To expedite the superstructure erection, the launch structure was designed and detailed by the contractor so it could be erected and launched from the opposite side of the river from the superstructure erection. This allowed the construction of the two structures to be completed in tandem and independently of each other.

The launch process was completed within a 2-day period, enabling the waterway channel to remain open throughout construction. This reduced disruption of recreational use of the river during construction and minimized the environmental impact to the surrounding area, particularly in ecologically sensitive regions. In addition, all welding and painting was completed on the approach, thereby ensuring there was no environmental impact from paint or weld material entering the waterway. Plus, for long-life and sustainability, LED light fixtures were used for the bridge lighting, significantly reducing energy consumption, light pollution, and future maintenance needs.

Bridge Aesthetics

In addition to meeting the needs of the City of Ottawa, and the requirement to be compatible with the location’s UNESCO World Heritage Site designation and status as a recognized National Historic Site in Canada, various other approval agencies imposed strict bridge design standards. These organizations included the National Capital Commission, Parks Canada, the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority, First Nations (Algonquin of Ontario), Transport Canada, and Transport Canada Marine. The design guidelines called for a distinctive new bridge in a natural setting that is:  pleasing to the eye from a distance and up close, by day and night; exhibits an appropriate landmark quality that responds to the significance of the Rideau Canal and is harmonious with its picturesque natural setting; responds to the history of engineering innovation and evolution of high quality bridge design on the Rideau Canal, yet is an expression of its own time; creates a safe, enjoyable, and memorable experience for users, both on the bridge and under the bridge; and maximizes transparency and openness.

LED lighting provides an impressive night view.

The design team realized that a wide bridge at the site could not blend with the natural environment of riverscape and treed lands. Instead, the goal was to enhance the environment, creating a bridge that was respectful of the river and a feature of particular significance and beauty.

With this design aspiration and the strict design guidelines from the many stakeholders, it was evident that the bridge main span should be clear of the waterway, including high water events. A range of superstructure types was considered, developed, and reviewed, including above-deck structures (such as cable-supported bridges, arches, and trusses) and under-deck structures (such as concrete girders, steel girders, and arches). The triple overhead arch configuration was the final selection since its appearance was light, open, airy, and pleasing to the eye. Stakeholders and the public agreed that this design would elevate the bridge to a landmark status worthy of the historic Rideau Canal. It was was even said to potentially “astonish and inspire” those who viewed the bridge from any location, whether on land or on water.

A Name That Carries the National Heritage and Pride of Canada

The bridge opened in July 2014 as the Standherd-Armstrong Bridge since it links Strandherd Drive in Barrhaven and Earl Armstrong Road in Riverside South. Renamed the Vimy Memorial Bridge in an official ceremony at the bridge site on November 8, 2014, the bridge now commemorates the historically significant World War I battle of Vimy Ridge in France in which Canadian troops emerged victorious.

Parsons’ experience working on 4,500+ bridges throughout the world was pivotal to the success of this important project. With a 100-year lifespan, the Vimy Memorial Bridge is destined to become another major icon for Ottawa, the national capital of Canada. View the Parsons video on Vimy Memorial Bridge.