The People Who Bring Bridges to Life

The new Samuel de Champlain bridge opened to traffic on two very important days. The northbound lanes heading into Montreal were opened on June 24th, when the province of Quebec celebrates Saint Jean Baptiste Day. The southbound lanes heading to Brossard opened on July 1st, when Canada celebrates the founding of the country.

View of the Samuel de Champlain Bridge (right), alongside the old Champlain Bridge (left).

These opening days are symbolic of how important the original Champlain bridge, and now the Samuel de Champlain bridge, are to North America. According to Infrastructure Canada, this bridge is crossed 50 million times each year (

This translates to approximately 140 000 vehicles per day, or 5 800 vehicles per hour, making the crossing one of the most important bridges in North America.

How does a 3.4 km long bridge, with a final price tag of around $4.5 billion, get built? A project of this scale requires an organized group of thousands of people to achieve such a feat of Engineering. For years these people have been spending their days, nights, and weekends, often in extreme temperatures and weather conditions, ensuring that each individual task gets done on time, and on budget. So, who are these everyday heros?

There are many different roles that need to be filled to complete a project of this scale. To understand the range of specialties needed, consider the following groups of professionals who have contributed to the project:

  • Construction workers: Build the bridge, piece by piece. Includes work on site and in fabrication shops.
  • Construction Engineer: Coordinate construction works on and off the jobsite, ensuring the safety and quality of the works.
  • Engineer of Record: Design the bridge by calculating the exact loading expected from traffic, and create a structural system that can carry these loads safely across the river.
  • Independent Engineer: Check the design of the Engineer of Record, and spot-check the on-site works.
  • Environmental Engineers: Create systems to protect the environment before, during and after construction.
  • Geotechnical Engineers: Verify the condition of the soil and rock to ensure the bridge can rest on solid foundations.
  • Durability Engineers: Ensure that all materials and methods used for construction are going to meet the durability requirements of the bridge, which includes 125 years with no major repair works.
  • Quality Control Engineers: Verify the quality of the materials being received on site, and ensuring the quality documentation is filed per project requirements.
  • Document Controllers: Coordinate and document millions of documents relating to every aspect of the project.
  • Owners Engineer: Develop the overall concept of the bridge prior to awarding the project, in coordination with the Architect.
  • Others: There are numerous other groups that participated in the project, including risk management, finance, law, asset management, etc.

Within these professions, there is a large variation in the types of tasks required. Consider the role of the Engineer of Record (EOR). For the Samuel de Champlain bridge, the EOR consisted of T.Y. Lin International, Systra-International Bridge Technologies, and SNC-Lavalin.

Members of the EOR field Engineering team. Photo credit ©Christian Fleury-CAPA pictures.

From the pre-bid works to final completion, the EOR is constantly engaged on a wide range of different roles to ensure that the bridge gets built according to the project agreement and all relevant design standards. These roles include, but are not limited to:

  • Help develop an estimate of the materials and cost of construction with the contractor, to provide a competitive bid to win the project.
  • When the project is awarded, use the project requirements, design criteria and design standards to determine the size, shape, material and connection of the entire bridge.
  • Independently check the work of the other partners in the EOR team, to ensure the quality and safety of the design.
  • Work with the contractor to verify the method of lifting and installing each of these pieces.
  • Provide construction site support to the contractor at every stage of the construction, as part of the certification process for the bridge.

After the many millions of hours worked on this bridge, there is one final product that will last for at least the next 125 years. That translates to more than 6.3 billion vehicles trips, most of which will be made by people who are not even born yet. This single projection highlights the magnitude of what has just been accomplished in Montreal.

The importance of every single person who contributed to the project cannot be overstated, and has helped deliver a bridge that Montreal, and Canada, can be truly proud of for generations.

Members of the EOR team attending the bridge’s opening ceremony on June 28, 2019.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *