Montreal·In Depth

Champlain Bridge architect Poul Ove Jensen on replacing Canada's busiest bridge

CBC Montreal spoke with the Copenhagen-based architect over the phone to gain some insight into his plans for the city’s new span across the St. Lawrence seaway.

The Copenhagen-based architect says the new Champlain Bridge will last over 100 years

Danish architect Poul Ove Jensen has designed or helped on projects for dozens of bridges all over the world, including the Oakland Bay Bridge and Hong Kong's Stonecutters' Bridge. (Ingenioren/Das Büro)

Danish bridge architect Poul Ove Jensen has been tapped by the federal government and engineering firm Arup Canada Inc., to build Montreal’s new Champlain Bridge — also known as Canada's busiest span.

The federal government announced Dec. 1 that the new bridge would be built by 2018, three years ahead of its previously announced schedule.​ The news came right after work crews put the finishing touches on a superbeam meant to secure a cracked girder.

Jensen says his new bridge will last at least 100 years.

CBC Montreal spoke with the Copenhagen-based architect over the phone to gain some insight into his plans for the city’s new span that links Montreal to the South Shore. 

Q: When did you first hear about the idea to replace the Champlain Bridge?

A: I heard about it because I was invited to take part in a conference about a year ago in Montreal where I was invited to speak about bridges on the occasion of the upcoming Champlain Bridge project.

The existing Champlain Bridge opened in 1962 and has been plagued by infrastructure problems for years. In 2011, the Quebec Catholic Church took out a tongue-in-cheek billboard ad near the bridge that read, "Say Your Prayers."

Then, of course you can imagine that all bridge designers in the world have had their guns aimed at Montreal for the past year and we have, of course, spoken to a number of the main players on the bridge scene, including Arup.

Q: When you’re looking at a city that you’re building for, what do you look at for ideas to incorporate into a bridge?

Of course, you have a special situation with the river. You have the seaway, which is quite far from the city centre. There is a very narrow shipping channel in the seaway. In other cases, you would have ships in the whole river… that is not the problem here.

Of course, you have the special climate, and in Montreal, you have pretty severe winters.

You have to consider that there will be snow and ice on the bridge in the winter, and it can be windy… The wind is the main problem. We just had a storm for two days and all our bridges were closed.

Q: In your opinion, what went wrong with the first Champlain Bridge?

A: I saw it the last time I was in Montreal, and the concrete really is in a bad condition. A lot of concrete from the 1960s is in bad condition — you see it all over the world. i think the worst ones (are caused by) very rapid development and perhaps too little focus on the quality of the concrete, or too little knowledge about concrete.


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