UPDATE – Bridge closing, bearings to be replaced

Paul Mayne/Western News

University Drive Bridge, facing University College, Oct. 10, 2018

The abrupt closing of University Drive Bridge is a result of an engineering firm’s findings that the bridge won’t be able to move as it should during winter’s freeze-thaw cycle.

The bridge will close to motorists, starting Oct. 18, so that bearings on the 95-year-old structure can be replaced. It is expected to be closed for several months.

Bearings, which act as cushions between the bridge deck and piers, help the bridge expand, contract and move with changes in traffic load and temperatures.

In late September, a structural engineering firm’s inspection – conducted with the help of drones – showed unexpected issues that led to a more detailed examination last weekend.

During a briefing late Tuesday, engineers said the bearings have now seized, and they recommended the bridge be closed for repairs, said Elizabeth Krische, Western’s Associate Vice-President in charge of Facilities Management.

“Temperature changes make the bridge expand and contract. With the weather patterns changing, (the bridge) is not going to be able to move the way it should,” Krische said.

“The more we use the bridge when the bearings aren’t working, the more damage it’s creating and adding to the need for repairs,” she said.

The weather cycle, rather than any pressing possibility of bridge failure, is prompting the move now, she emphasized.

The university is restricting traffic starting on Thursday, Oct. 18.

However, London Transit Commission has decided its buses on routes #6, #13 and #106 will be redirected around the bridge, starting on Monday. More information on those detours is here.

Paul Mayne/Western NewsUniversity Drive Bridge over the Thames River at Western University, was built in 1923.

The span will remain open to cyclists and pedestrians.

Repairs last took place in 2016, when bracing was installed around the piers at a cost of slightly less than $400,000. It was then load-tested, re-inspected and re-opened to traffic.

At that time, engineers said additional fixes likely would be necessary in about three years.

Until this latest development, repairs had been planned and budgeted for Spring 2019, with inspections scheduled in the interim.

Krische, an engineer, said the faster-than-expected deterioration may be a result of higher traffic volumes: enrolment and the volume of Western business are both higher than in previous years.

And while there’s no current estimate of how many non-campus motorists travel through Western without stopping, the most recent survey showed cut-through traffic represented 42 per cent of the total.

Western owns the bridge and is responsible for its upkeep.

  • Paul Mayne/Western NewsWestern University Bridge, facing southeast, in October 2018

The next step is to engage design work and then a contractor, Krische said. There is no repair-cost estimate yet.

“The engineer says we can get another five-plus years out of it,” she said. That will allow more time to understand the future of the bridge in the context of long-term campus needs and potential city transit changes.

The university continues to work with the city, London Transit Commission, London Health Sciences Centre (University Hospital), emergency services and others to mitigate the impact.

Western has created a webpage where it will post more information, including detour maps and FAQs.

Map by Frank Neufeld/Western UniversityMap of motorists’ routes into Western University campus, with vehicles barred from using University Drive Bridge.

 

Chronology:

  • November, 1923 – New bridge, crossing the Thames River at Western University, opens to traffic.
  • 2002 – major repairs improve traffic flow and pedestrian safety. Heavy trucks barred from bridge.
  • 2016 – Engineering report recommends repairs, further load limits.
  • March, 2016 – bridge closes for three days for necessary repairs, is re-inspected; traffic resumes.
  • Oct., 2018 – engineering report notes damage to bearings that allow the bridge to flex under traffic load and temperature changes.
  • As of Oct. 18, motorized traffic will be prevented access; pedestrians and cyclists still permitted.

 

What next:

  • Bus traffic will be re-routed on Oct. 15 and the bridge will be closed to all other motorized traffic on Oct. 18. Shuttles that would ordinarily use the bridge while travelling between Western and Brescia, Huron and King’s university colleges will be rerouted
  • Design work will take place to determine exactly what repairs are necessary
  • A contractor will be engaged to do the repairs
  • Planning will take place to determine long-term use and function of bridge in light of over-all traffic management in city and on campus.