Crews will work through winter to have Highway 50 open in 2012
After waiting decades for Highway 50 to open between Lachute and Gatineau, residents of western Quebec will next year be able to drive another 17 kilometres on its newest stretch between Grenville and Fassett.
Politicians have been promising to complete the highway since the early 1960s, a fact MNA d'Argenteuil David Whissell made light of during a visit to the construction site last Wednesday, October 13.
"It's become a joke that this project was named Highway 50, because it's taken that long to complete."
Construction crews will continue to work on the highway's expansion through the cold months of winter, completing bridges and laying the next section of road, which is expected to be open to traffic by next September and completed straight through to Gatineau by 2012.
The construction of a $36-million bridge spanning the Rouge River is being pegged as the largest bridge to be built in the Laurentians, measuring 378 metres in length and towering 74 metres above the riverbed.
According to Ministry of Transport engineer Florin Pauna, the Rouge River Bridge is expected to completely span the river by late November and the next section of highway linking Fassett to Montebello is already being paved in certain locations.
The bridge was presented one of the greatest challenges to the completion of Highway 50, though Pauna said it inspired site engineers to use innovative tools in its construction. They needed to construct a bridge that minimized its environmental impact while accounting for increased traffic, seismic activity and a slate of other elements.
In order to reduce the impact on fish and wildlife, the bridge's support structures were built on both sides of the riverbed, instead of in the water.
"The superstructure of the bridge is built out of very strong metal that was forged in Quebec and shipped here in pieces," the engineer explained, standing next to the structure in progress last week. "The bridge alone cost $36 million and it is very strong, but compact, to reduce the impact on the environment."
Nestled between the Ottawa River and panoramic views of eastern Ontario and western Quebec's valleys, the bridge otherwise appears as a steel and cement monolith. It is being constructed at ground level, in sections, with the help of wheels and cranes that inch each piece into place.
All told, the Rouge River Bridge will require about two-thirds of the 7,300 tonnes used to construct the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The steel support beams contain about 2,500 tonnes of steel - and about 3,000 tonnes of concrete and material - while the superstructure contains another 2,400 tonnes of steel.
"The bridge was built on an angle for added strength and inspection booths have been built along the bridge to enable inspectors to verify the construction," said Pauna.
In order to expedite the project and reduce environmental impact, many materials used to construct the bridge were stored on site and aggregate materials were used, rather than wasted. Roughly two million cubic metres of rock was blasted through the Quebec mountain range to allow for this section of highway, which was then made into gravel and used to build the highway.
Space has already been cleared alongside the highway to allow for the potential addition of another two lanes, expected to become necessary over the next few decades as the regional population expands.
Eighty-odd employees continue to work on the Grenville-Fassett section of Highway 50, a significant decrease from the 364 people who were working on the project during the summer months.
The price to link the 90 kilometres of forest and villages between Lachute and Gatineau is expected to cost Quebec taxpayers nearly $800 million, a project that "will stimulate the economy of western Quebec, bringing new jobs and big business to the area," according to Whissell.