Since 2016, the Saint Lawrence River near the Canadian metropolis of Montreal has served as the stage for a gigantic choreography of barges, tugs, heavy machinery, and equipment. This show is all about building the 3.4-kilometer-long New Champlain Bridge, which will be one of the city’s main traffic arteries in the future. In the mist of this intricate performance, we met the project’s Marine Rescue Crew, which is always ready to handle any incidents that may occur on the river.
The Rescuers from the Saint Lawrence
When the river becomes a potential opponent
The Saint Lawrence River is an impressive spectacle of nature. Near the center of Montreal it forms a broad basin up to five kilometers wide, but just a short way downstream the river bed narrows to a few hundred meters. At the midpoint between these two extremes, a consortium headed by HOCHTIEF is building a new highway bridge, the New Champlain Bridge, across North America’s third-largest river. This waterway commands great respect from everyone involved in the project, because ist movements are treacherous and the Canadian winter can quickly turn it into an icy grave for anyone who gets caught in its clutches. “That’s why work safety is part of this project’s DNA,” says Jean Charron, the Health and Safety Manager of the project.
Marine rescue around the clock
The huge cable-stayed bridge requires many components to be installed close to the river or right in it. These include marine foundations, large finished parts, abutment copings, box constructions, and much more besides. That’s why Captain Réal Desrochers and his three colleagues are now wearing warm clothing and life jackets at the river, where they are preparing their boat. These four fearless men are part of the project’s twelve-member marine rescue crew. This crew is split into several teams of rescue experts who are ready to take action around the clock during the entire time that work is carried out at the bridge.
Working under extreme conditions
The Marine Rescue Crew is on the water practically all the time. It patrols the river along the construction site, which sounds easier than it actually is. “Because the Saint Lawrence River has many strong currents, we need the best boats that you can get,” says skipper Desrochers, who also heads the Marine Rescue Crew. The crew has two special boats: a powerful 17-foot-long motorboat with a rigid hull and the technical boat UMA 17, which is especially designed for the winter months,” as Desrochers explains. “It quickly and easily gets us to the place where we’re needed, even if there’s ice.”
Fully committed to safety
Despite the good equipment, working on the river represents an ever-present risk that demands extensive experience of operating on the water and extreme alertness.“ Accessing the construction site is always a minor challenge for us,” says the experienced team leader. This is a considerable understatement. As soon as the small boat casts off, it skips across the waves and struggles against the current in a way that can make you seasick simply by looking at it. But this is daily life for Réal Desrochers and his team. The other workers on the huge bridge construction site are greatly reassured by the marine rescue team’s permanent visibility. “The proximity of the rescue team makes the construction workers feel safe,” says Charron.
The rescuers continually receive further training
Charron adds that besides the marine rescue team, many of the other workers are also trained in work safety. After all, the aim is to prevent an emergency from occurring in which the rescue crew would have to take action. “We have many technicians who are responsible for accident prevention at the various construction sites on land,” says Charron. The construction workers and rescuers now form a big team—any of them could get on board and go along on an assignment. “The teams have the right ship equipment and training. They are certified first responders who continuously receive further training.” Even though the New Champlain Bridge will soon be completed, the experience gained on the Saint Lawrence River will be incorporated into the work safety concepts of future projects. This will ensure that nothing happens to the workers and that help can be quickly provided in an emergency even on rough waters.
A new bridge for Montreal
The New Champlain Bridge Corridor is a major PPP project, in which several HOCHTIEF units are involved: HOCHTIEF PPP Solutions controls 25 percent of the project company Signature on the Saint Lawrence Group, while Flatiron is a partner of the design-build joint venture. The consortium headed by HOCHTIEF is responsible for the planning, financing, and construction of the new highway bridge as well as for 31 years of operation. The construction project will replace the existing Champlain Bridge, which is nearing the end of its useful life. Around 60 million vehicles will cross the new bridge every year.
In 2018 the New Champlain Bridge Corridor won the Envision Platinum Award for sustainable infrastructure. To earn such an award, a project has to prove that it offers certain environmental, social, and economic benefits. The New Champlain Bridge Corridor is the first project to receive an Envision award in the Canadian province of Québec and the second bridge project in North America to win such an award.