Troops roll out mega-bridge

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Bridge gives shortcut to Children's Festival

Kids will cross the Sturgeon a little easier at this year’s children’s festival thanks to a massive metal bridge from the Edmonton Garrison.

Troops from the 1 Combat Engineer Regiment built a medium-girder bridge over the Sturgeon River Sunday. The 32-ton behemoth is meant to give kids at the International Children’s Festival a safe way to get from St. Albert Place to Father Jan school.

This will be a huge help to the festival, says director Nancy Abrahamson. “The time to get from here to over there is [now]three minutes versus 15 at least.” The troops, many of whom live in St. Albert, will be on hand throughout the festival to discuss their work and help kids across the bridge.

This is a chance for St. Albert to show its appreciation for our troops, according to Abrahamson. “Thank you for all you have done.”

Bridge-building

This year’s bridge is much different from last year’s, Abrahamson notes — that one was a floating model made of wood and pontoons. “There were a lot more hoops to jump through this time.”

Last year’s model worked, she says, but also ran afoul of the Navigable Waters Protection Act, as it was too low for boats to float under. The troops suggested this model as an alternative. “The approval came in as late as last Friday.”

Work on the bridge started at about 8:30 a.m. Sunday, says Lt. Martin Douglas, the commander on site, and wrapped up seven hours later. Soldiers added finishing touches such as handrails on Monday.

“Anytime you build something big like this, it is good training for the guys,” Douglas says. Troops had to survey the site to find a proper crossing point and co-ordinate with numerous government agencies — just as they would during an overseas operation. “Most of these guys have never got to build a bridge like this before.”

Supervising the 50-some troops building the bridge was Warrant Officer Kirby Vincent of Gibbons. He’s had a lot of experience making these, he says, “mostly on the end of a carrying handle,” and crossed a few of them in Bosnia.

Troops call this a second-line tactical bridge, Vincent says, as it’s one that you would build in a reasonably secure area to ferry supplies to the front lines. This particular bridge was last used to replace a wrecked bridge in Bosnia.

Construction of the bridge started when troops tossed a guideline across the river. The massive support beams were assembled on land and then shoved across the river using a jack and rollers.

Troops then lugged 105 deck plates into place to fill in the gaps. Each plate weighs 163 pounds, Douglas says, and takes two soldiers to carry. “It’s hard work, but the guys enjoy it.”

In its current configuration, Vincent says, the bridge can easily support about 20 tons — equivalent to about 500 kids, assuming each weighs 80 pounds. “I believe 100 tons is the maximum we can get on this bridge,” he adds — more than enough for a main battle tank. For tank traffic, they’d also string thick cables under the bridge to bend it into an arch shape, transferring weight to its abutments and bolstering its strength.

Vincent seemed proud and relaxed as he surveyed the finished product. “It gives you a sense of accomplishment when you finish building something like this and can walk across it.”

His pride was only slightly dampened when his men mobbed him Sunday and tossed him into the river — a traditional post-job practice, he says. “There were a little too many of them for me to run,” he says, smiling and soaked afterward. “I took a couple of them with me!” He would have his chance for revenge when it came time to take the bridge down, he notes.

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About Author

Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.