This $100 million renovation gave new life to the Peace Bridge, which connects the United States with Canada
By Julia Edinger
Nearly a century ago in 1927, the Peace Bridge opened to the public. Prior to this bridge’s construction, the International Railway Bridge was the main link between the United States and Canada over Niagara River. With the birth and rapid adoption of the automobile, there was a need to create a new connection that would allow pedestrian and automotive traffic to cross, as well. Since its creation, the Peace Bridge has become an iconic landmark. Located near Buffalo, New York and Fort Erie, Ontario, it is the second busiest border crossing between the two nations, with millions of vehicles crossing it annually. According to the Peace Bridge Authority website, $40 billion in trade cross this bridge every single year. Still, despite its international importance, the bridge had never gone through a serious transformation — until now. The $100 million improvement that increased the efficiency, functionality, and resilience of this bridge is American Infrastructure Magazine’s Bridge Project of the Year.
Bringing New Life to Historic Infrastructure
Prior to this project, the roadway surface of the bridge was the original concrete deck. There had been various repair programs throughout the decades, but even those were no longer sufficient. Many individual parts of the bridge needed attention. The project intended to replace the roadway deck; widen the structure to add a pedestrian walkway and observation platform; replace, rehabilitate, and strengthen the structural steel; install electrical and fiber infrastructure; and install new architectural traffic control features. It was a huge undertaking.
“The difficulties associated with maintaining operations of a highly trafficked international border crossing and tolling facility during a complete rehabilitation of a complex bridge cannot be understated,” said Thomas A. Boyle, Chief Operating Officer of the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority.
One particular challenge in the project’s construction was that much of it occurred during winter months to limit impacts to traffic. Those who have visited the Northeast in winter can imagine the kind of forethought it would take to overcome the challenges posed by several feet of snow and arctic chills. To make it more challenging, road closure restrictions forced the team to do much of the work on the structural deck during nighttime hours.
“Despite the difficulties of the harsh conditions, the works were able to proceed on time and in compliance through very careful planning and scheduling,” Boyle explained.
Using a thin concrete-filled steel grid deck reduced the dead load of the deck by nearly 40 percent, which improved the bridge’s live load capacity – even with the addition of the widened pathway for bicyclists and pedestrians.
During the construction, traffic was rerouted towards the outermost limits of the bridge structure. This required that additional structural reinforcement be implemented because the construction traffic configuration conflicted with the original bridge design’s capability.
“Although a significant amount of the construction cost was related exclusively to temporary conditions, the overall investment will be greatly beneficial for decades to come,” Boyle said. “Beyond having a new bridge deck, improvements include everything from mitigating stormwater more efficiently to having an intelligent traffic control gantry system.”
The intelligent overhead gantry system will help to improve the efficiency and safety of the traffic flow across the bridge. The bridge’s bi-directional center lane is based on traffic, so this informative signage allows the Authority to display traffic directions with increased clarity.
The observation platform also provides those crossing the bridge with a unique opportunity, according to Boyle, to “take pictures with feet planted in different countries.”
An International Collaboration
The project’s inception and design process started in 2012, and feasibility review was completed in late 2015. The construction contract was bid and executed in 2016 with American Bridge Company Canada. The project was financed through a bond issuance and toll revenue. The project was considered substantially complete by June of 2019, and the project was fully complete in October of 2019.
Extensive planning was required to coordinate with internal and external entities involved, two notable stakeholders being US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
The project followed a typical design-bid-build methodology. The Peace Bridge Authority worked with Parsons and CHA, the consulting engineering team, to inspect the bridge before the design process began. American Bridge Canada was awarded the construction contract, overseen by resident engineering firm LiRo Engineers.
“The design drawings and specifications were of such detail that minimal deviation from the plans was encountered,” Boyle explained. The design details were so crucial that design engineer consultants were retained during construction to maintain the project’s original vision.
The project was also constructed in a way to mitigate the traffic impacts on the public. Limiting lane closures to winter months helped limit the burden on the traveling public. The CBP and CBSA also worked hard to keep as many inspection lanes open as possible to keep things flowing smoothly. Each aspect of this project comes back to carefully planning the process, and those who regularly use this bridge certainly benefited from those preparations.
“Since substantial completion, the response by the community has been overwhelmingly positive with three travel lanes back in operation, a new, smooth roadway surface, and an aesthetically pleasing international gateway,” Boyle stated.
Investing in this infrastructure ensures that this bridge will continue to provide a crucial connection between the US and Canada for decades into the future.
Julia Edinger is the Editor for American Infrastructure Magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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