Protective ship collision barriers to be installed for Lions Gate Bridge and Ironworkers Memorial Bridge

Apr 5 2023, 10:59 pm

As the only fixed-link road crossings linking the North Shore to the rest of Metro Vancouver, the provincial government is looking to improve the resiliency and safety designs of both the Lions Gate Bridge and Ironworkers Memorial Bridge to prevent both critical transportation links from being damaged by a ship strike.

The procurement process has begun to seek a contractor to design collision barriers for the piers of both bridges in the First Narrows and Second Narrows of Burrard Inlet.

The Lions Gate Bridge’s south pier next to the Stanley Park seawall would see a new rock berm extend around the north side of the structure — closest to the ship channel. There would also be a single pile to provide ships with a navigational aid to avoid the rock berm and south pier.

For the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge, a “dolphin arrangement” would protect the structure, including two dolphin barriers protecting the south pier and three dolphin barriers protecting the north pier. Each dolphin barrier consists of seven tubular steel piles and a reinforced concrete pilecap, which are intended to deflect ships from colliding into the structural piers.

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Rock berm protective barrier concept for the south pier of the Lions Gate Bridge. (Government of BC)

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Dolphin protective barrier concept for the piers of the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge. (Government of BC)

Both bridges are, of course, the fixed-link road connections to the North Shore from south of Burrard Inlet, and the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island via BC Ferries’ Horseshoe Bay terminal, respectively the Sea to Sky Corridor, and BC’s interior and the north.

Currently, about 60,000 vehicles use the 1938-built Lions Gate Bridge per day, while 125,000 vehicles use the 1960-built Ironworkers Memorial Bridge (Highway 1) per day.

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The south pier of the Lions Gate Bridge next to the Stanley Park seawall. (Shutterstock)

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Lions Gate Bridge looking towards the North Shore, with the south pier in the foreground. (Shutterstock)

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Lions Gate Bridge looking towards Stanley Park. (Shutterstock)

“Both bridges are of critical importance to people throughout the Lower Mainland, as well as to the regional, provincial and national economies. The addition of protections against vessel strikes builds on the investments in ongoing rehabilitation and seismic retrofits of the two structures,” states the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

According to the Ministry’s procurement document, the safety upgrades are required following the changes to the National Bridge Design Code.

Following the code changes, the Ministry contracted engineering consultancy firm WSP to study the ship collision risk and determined that the structures did not meet the new standards for vessel impact resilience and the maximum annual frequency of collapse for the bridges of one-in-10,000 years. In 2018, engineering firm SNC Lavalin refined the design concept developed by WSP.

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Ironworkers Memorial Bridge looking towards the North Shore. (Shutterstock)

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Ironworkers Memorial Bridge looking towards the North Shore. (Shutterstock)

No budget has been aside for the future construction of the safety upgrades, as this will be determined by the new contractor’s work in designing the collision barriers.

The provincial government also notes it will begin an in-depth study this year of the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge, which will “assess current conditions and begin planning for the long-term future of this crucial connection to the North Shore” while also noting that this crossing at the Second Narrows still has decades of remaining lifespan. TransLink has also selected the Second Narrows for the future fixed-link rapid transit crossing between the North Shore and Burnaby’s Brentwood and Metrotown areas.

For the Lions Gate Bridge, an emerging issue is the low clearance of its bridge deck for the growing height and size of ships, especially cruise ships.

In early 2020, until the pandemic’s sudden onset, the Port of Vancouver was expected to begin public consultation on its proposal to consider building an additional cruise ship terminal in Richmond or Delta. This would address the current inability to handle new taller cruise ships at the Canada Place cruise ship terminal, which must pass under the Lions Gate Bridge.

The existing Pattullo Bridge is also being replaced due to its poor structural condition and design, including the vulnerability of its piers in the Fraser River to ship collisions. The new replacement bridge will open in 2024.

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