PHOTO: North side of the Hazeldean Bridge over the Carp River, March 2016.
OTTAWA SUN, JULY 30, 2011: “A $4-million bridge over the Carp River will take an extra month to complete after a structural problem caused it to sink this week. A Sun tipster said the project foreman ordered workers off the Hazeldean Rd. structure this week after it sank four inches when supports were taken away. Stittsville Coun. Shad Qadri said city engineers confirmed to him Saturday something called a “deck deflection” took place. The deck of a bridge is the roadway portion, including the shoulders. A deflection is the displacement of a structural beam or system under load. Qadri said there was structural testing of the bridge this week, but said he heard the deflection was “a matter of centimetres, not inches.” (Link)
I’VE ALWAYS BEEN CURIOUS about what happened to the Hazeldean Road bridge over the Carp River. A spokesperson for the construction company said at the time that “all bridges are designed to drop a little”. But two years before it sank, the Ottawa Citizen published a city engineer’s concerns about its design. As far as I know, there’s never been an official explanation made public for what happened. I started asking questions about it over a year ago.
MARCH 2015: I was doing some research on the Carp River Restoration Plan, and sent a note to the City’s media department: “When the bridge was completed in 2011, the opening was delayed due to structural problems. I’m looking for information on what was found to have caused those problems.”
A few days later, I received a response back, attributed to the city’s Carina Duclos, Manager Design and Construction, West: “During construction, the bridge deck settled more than the anticipated amount and a structural modification was made to rectify the problem.”
That didn’t tell me much more than the newspaper reports at the time, so I emailed back another question: “What caused it to settle more than anticipated and what structural changes had to be made? Is there a report or any background info available about the repairs?”
A few days later I got a follow-up response, again in an email attributed to Duclos: “The original construction provided insufficient support for the bridge deck. As a result, the bridge deck settled more than was originally anticipated during construction. Remedial work was conducted to correct this issue, including the installation of a new support system for the bridgedeck.”
As for a report, Duclos wrote: “The City of Ottawa worked collaboratively with the contractor and bridge designer to complete the work and correct the issues. This work was done through the regular construction process and no formal reports were developed. It is also of note that the repairs were completed at no additional cost to the City of Ottawa.”
I remember thinking that was strange. A $4-million bridge repair project had a structural failure, was delayed a month from opening, and there was no formal report? The bridge wasn’t central to my research, so I parked that thought and moved on.
FAST FORWARD TO NOVEMBER, 2015: A local truck driver got in touch with concerns about the bridge. He remembered when it sank back in 2011, and thought it might be sinking again. I took a photo and sent it along with a note to the City’s media department on November 16:
“A reader alerted us to a crack on the Hazeldean Road bridge that crosses the Carp River. I took this photo last Friday (attached). This photo shows the westbound lane, on the west side of the bridge. The crack continues across both the eastbound and westbound lanes, and there’s a similar crack on the east side of the bridge. There’s a separation of about 1-2″ in width, and a grade separation of about an inch across the bridge.
Normally I would not send in a media request about a crack in the road, but this bridge is different — when it first opened around 2011, the bridge deck settled, and structural deficiencies had to be repaired. I wonder if this crack might be indicative of grade separation occurring due to deficiencies in the design?
– When was this bridge last inspected? Is staff aware of this crack?
(The resident I talked to says he called it in to city about 7 months ago.)
– How often is this bridge scheduled to be inspected (yearly? every two years?, etc?)
– Does the crack pose a safety hazard?
– What could cause the crack?
– Is the crack related to the previous structural problems with the bridge?”
For good measure, I asked again if there was any report.
“Finally, was there a report completed to examine the design/construction of the bridge to determine why it had structural problems? And if so, what were the findings of the report and how can I obtain a copy?”
A reply came back a few days later on November 18 from Councillor Shad Qadri:
“As per your recent inquiry to the City I am providing you with a follow up to your individual questions. You mention that a resident called in to the city several months ago asking about the Hazeldean Bridge structure in reference to cracks and did not receive a response. It is unfortunate that the resident did not go through my office as I could have replied being aware of the specific issue and having already spoken with staff back in March of 2015.
The information below is based on my initial inquiry with Public Works in December of 2014 and a follow up response from the engineer responsible for the infrastructure. I do want to thank you for your inquiry and for my office working with the city to provide the above response
Staff is aware of the crack in the pavement at the bridge approaches. Staff inspected the structure in December 2014. A full inspection, in accordance with the Ontario Structure Inspection Manual, was completed in August 2014. The inspection found that the structure is in good condition with only minor works identified such as routing and sealing of cracks.
The bridge structure is inspected every two years. This is a regulated standard.
There are no safety concerns with the pavement cracking. These types of settlements are normal and the structural integrity of the bridge is not affected by the crack in the pavement.
Typically settlement of the approach embankments leading to the structure causes these types of transverse cracks in the pavement.
There is no evidence or indication that this would be related to issues other than embankment settlement.”
As for that report, Qadri replied:
“An investigation was completed during the initial construction when deficiencies were identified. The investigation identified deflection in the structure and corrective measures were undertaken at the time of construction.”
So if there was an investigation, maybe there was a report as well?
I wrote back to Qadri later that night: “I understand that quite a bit of work and engineering was done during construction of the bridge and roadway to mitigate embankment settlement at this location. Have city engineers confirmed that the settlement that is within expected/accepted parameters for this bridge? Besides sealing and routing of cracks, will any additional work be done to correct the issue? Is a copy of this report available online or can you share a copy of the report?”
NOVEMBER 27, 2015: Councillor Qadri emailed back:
“As previously indicated, inspections have found that the structure is in good condition. The types of settlements that are visible are normal for this type of structure and the structural integrity of the bridge is not affected by the crack in the pavement. There are control joints at the end of the approach slab for this bridge to accommodate any movement or settlement. Staff will continue to monitor and inspect the structure.”
“The report in question has no connection to the pavement cracking. There is no evidence or indication that this would be related to issues other than embankment settlement. The report produced during construction was obtained as part of a matter that was settled with a number of other parties on a confidential basis subject only to the provisions of MFIPPA.”
So, there was a report! But due to MIFPPA (Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act) it was only available by submitting an Access to Information request. They cost $5 and usually take weeks or months to get a response.
I submitted the request to City Hall: “Requesting a copy of an engineering report produced by a third party in late 2011, that was a review of the design and construction of the Carp River Bridge on Hazeldean.”
Then I waited, and waited, and waited.
In the meantime, city crews patched the crack on the west side sometime in December.
JANUARY 9, 2016. I hear back from one of the City’s information officers. They have the document I’m looking for, but because it includes third party information, the other party gets to review it before it gets released to the public. They third party has until January 21 to respond.
FEBRUARY 19, 2016. I checked my mailbox. Mixed in with flyers there was a large envelope from the City of Ottawa. Inside, a cover letter from City Clerk Rick O’Connor. “Access is hereby granted in full to the records requested.”
Enclosed there’s a copy of a report, dated November 15, 2011 on Delcan letterhead: “Assessment of the Hazeldean Road Bridge”. Fifty-two pages, black and white double sided.
DELCAN, AN ENGINEERING COMPANY SPECIALIZING IN TRANSPORTATION and water infrastructure, was asked to investigate why the bridges “were not performing as expected, did not have the geometry which was expected, and had sustained damage.” They were also asked to come up with a way to fix it.
Delcan, along with geotechnical engineers from Golder Associates, examined the designs, conducted site visits, and did structural analyses of the bridge. They found that the towers had leaned inwards towards the bridge decks, that anchors connecting steel hangers to the towers were damaged, and that the bridge deck sagged. “None of these behaviours was anticipated,” the engineers found.
“The bridges, although only partially completed, had failed to support the loads imposed upon them by their own deck weight. They clearly did not have the capacity to support the additional dead loads and live loads which they were intended to support in accordance with the original design,” said the report.
The report also looked at what role the falsework might have played in the collapse. Falsework is the temporary structure used to hold up the bridge while it’s under construction.
“It has been reported anecdotally that the Contractor did not camber the decks in such a manner as to take account of falsework settlements… To our knowledge there is no evidence that the falsework settlements were an issue on this bridge affecting the capacity of the bridge to carry load.”
The report concludes: “Irrespective of the existence or otherwise of the possible workmanship issues which have been brought to our attention, the bridge would have failed as a result of the design.”
Because of my request, the report is now a public document. You can read it here.
The Hazeldean bridge was designed by Genivar, an engineering firm that was also involved in the problematic Airport Parkway pedestrian bridge.
Construction on the Airport Parkway bridge began in June 2011, just before the Hazeldean bridge problems happened. The 75-meter pedestrian and cycling bridge wasn’t finished until 2014 at a cost of over $11.5-million, well over the original $6.9-million estimate. The City filed a $4.6-million claim against Genivar in 2014.
“We are calling on Genivar to pay for the $4.6 million in costs that have resulted from their design,” said Mayor Jim Watson in a press release about the 2014 claim. “This multi-million dollar claim demonstrates our commitment to holding outside consultants accountable for the role that they played in this troubled project.”
That matter is ongoing, and no trial date has been set as of March 2016, according to City Solicitor Rick O’Connor.
Genivar was one of the companies involved in the corruption scandal in Quebec’s construction industry. They’ve since changed their name to WSP Global.
IT TOOK MORE THAN A YEAR, but now I have an official reason for why the $4-million bridge failed: it was improperly designed by the engineering company.
Why couldn’t City officials tell me that a year ago? Vague explanations like “the deck settled more than anticipated” and “the investigation identified deflection” don’t give the public any real explanation. And why did they tell me that “no formal reports” were developed, when the City did in fact hire Delcan to do a full analysis?
Given the link to another problem-plagued bridge project, not to mention previous errors identified with computer models used to evaluate Carp River flood levels, I would have expected more transparency from the City on this file.
Regardless of who paid for the repairs (in this case, the contractor covered the cost), the City should have proactively disclosed this info in 2011 when they received the report.
There are still more questions: How and why did a faulty bridge design (actually two faulty bridge designs) get approved in the first place? Has the City made any changes to their procurement and contracting process as a result of this report?
Maybe it’s all just “water under the bridge” for the City, as the old saying goes.