Warren Proulx is ending his career on a high note. The city engineer is overseeing the construction of the Columbia River Skywalk before heading into retirement.

The building of a bridge

Outgoing city engineer provides insight to construction of city’s new pipe/pedestrian bridge

City engineer Warren Proulx is capping off 39 years on the job with the largest undertaking of his career.

Proulx recently sat down with the Trail Times to chat about the project in hopes of giving readers a glimpse of what it takes to build a bridge set to span the Columbia River from Rotary Park to McQuarrie Street at Columbia Avenue.

He laughs that the City of Trail won’t let him retire until the ribbon is cut and the newly named Columbia River Skywalk opens to pedestrians this upcoming winter.

“I’ve been working on this project for five years,” he said. “The details have been followed literally right down to the nuts and bolts.”

Engineer firm Buckland and Taylor calls the new crossing one of the longest suspension pedestrian bridges in North America, measuring 1,000-feet shore-to-shore. Constructing a project of this measure involves much thought and planning, which is where Proulx and an army of engineers fit in.

“It’s pretty big for me,” said Proulx. “In all my years of engineering, I’ve never had a project this large and I’m sort of, even after all of these years, still learning.”

The foundation for the towers, wind anchors and abutments are complete, and construction is about to amp up with the delivery of 100-foot towers that will be trucked from Manitoba in mid-April. Road closures will be set to ensure the tricky move, which maneuvering through downtown and across the Victoria Street Bridge will be a feat of its own.

“You’re going to see lots happening in the next couple of months,” explained Proulx. “The towers will be in place, the hi-line will go up, you’re going to see a lot of activity.”

Positioning the towers will be done with two cranes — one on top and one on the bottom — which grab and place the pieces on the concrete tower bases that are now in place.

Once the towers are up, 30-foot temporary extensions will be stacked on each tower and a cable will be strung from end to end, enabling crews to work above the tower line.

But how will the cable get across the river to begin with? One of the options explored was to shoot a nylon rope across the river with an arrow, but there was concern the arrow wouldn’t make the distance.

Instead, a nylon rope will be dropped into a boat, taken across the water and wound up on a reel. From there the line will be beefed up with a steel cable pulled across the water, lifted with a crane and secured across the river like a clothes line. Once the hi-line is in place, bridge assembly will begin.

“The cable goes up, and then they attach a cage that can hold four iron workers and the hi-line cable allows them to move along, lowering and raising the cage while they work on the bridge,” explained Proulx. “The basket will have hooks to attach the items the workers need for each part. Then they return to shore, get more parts and go back out and work on the bridge from there.”

The river way near the project will be shut down intermittently to boat traffic and monitored by personnel, who will ensure no boats go toward the pedestrian crossing under construction at various times from April 22-May 22 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Mid-summer work will give seniors at Chateau Manor, located nearby the construction site in East Trail, even more to talk about with many components like the main cable installation, the water and sewer main installation and floor beams scheduled for completion.

Proulx said the seniors living near the site have taken quite an interest in the project, and this led him to delivering a large poster of the completed bridge to the manor so residents can visualize the finished product.

There has been much work off site, he adds, which has resulted in some changes to the original project plans.

Following an in-depth wind study by an Ontario firm that reviewed historical weather patterns and recreated conditions with a small scale model inside a wind tunnel, the bridge deck was widened from eight feet to 12 to eliminate potential swaying.

Wind fairings, steel flaps that go on the side of the bridge, are further designed to deflect the wind and are stabilized by cables that anchor deep into the ground on both sides. Much of this activity is reserved for construction this fall.

The grading plan, which includes the creation of sidewalks, landscaping, bollards, benches, and turf, is expected to be consistent with the city’s Downtown Revitalization Plan. The preliminary design should be finalized in about a month, but the work isn’t scheduled until November.

The location upstream from the Old Trail Bridge was selected partly to keep proximity to the existing sewer force main and add ease to relocating a new regional sewer interceptor line from the closed structure to the new build.

The galvanized suspension walking bridge fits well with the city’s future development along the Esplanade.

It also reconnects the popular walking loop that’s been missed by locals since an inspection revealed significant deterioration of the pilings supporting the 100-year-old structure, leading to its permanent closure in 2010. The crossing, which will also house a new regional sewer line, would not have been possible without regional partnership between Trail, Rossland and Warfield.

Though the foot bridge is reserved for pedestrians and cyclists, the bridge deck will feature removable posts that will open up access to an emergency vehicle should the Victoria Street Bridge temporary close to traffic.

The city will purchase a quad that will be housed at the regional fire hall, ready to respond if necessary.

For Proulx, overseeing the nearly $15-million project has been a perfect way to wrap up his career.

“Suspension bridges don’t get built very often; I’m pretty excited about the whole thing,” he said.

“I’ve been involved in stuff with the city for a long time, and it doesn’t matter what you do there will be people who complain about it through different medias,” he added.

“This project, surprisingly, there’s been nothing.”

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