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Port Mann Bridge tear-down underway, falling ice fix is in

Port Mann Bridge: Sweepers are being installed to prevent ice build up on the overhead cables, and work has begun to dismantle the old Port Mann Bridge, visible behind the new span. - Ministry of Transportation
Port Mann Bridge: Sweepers are being installed to prevent ice build up on the overhead cables, and work has begun to dismantle the old Port Mann Bridge, visible behind the new span.
— image credit: Ministry of Transportation

While contractors are now installing a fix to keep more ice from falling from the new Port Mann Bridge's overhead cables, other crews have begun dismantling the old bridge.

Transportation Investment Corp. spokesman Max Logan said bridge contractors – at their own expense – designed and made cable sweepers that are being installed on all 152 cables that cross over top of the new bridge's traffic lanes.

If there's a repeat of the wintry conditions that caused a build-up of overhead snow to fall and pummel vehicles below, a lane will be closed and a truck will winch each sweeper up and down its cable to clear any ice. The gadgets are about two feet long and consist of wheels, scrapers and brushes.

"We're confident we're not going to see a repeat of the circumstances we saw on Dec. 19," Logan said, referring to the incident where more than 250 vehicles were reported damaged by falling ice and Transportation Minister Mary Polak ordered a quick retrofit.

By next winter, Logan said, the bridge should have four winches located near the top of each of the bridge's towers that can be used to remotely hoist the sweepers up and down their cables without the need for lane closures.

Also being tested are highly water-repellent hydrophobic coatings that are to be applied to the cables so falling snow is more likely to fall off right away.

A further backup option has also been identified – de-icing solutions that can be sprayed on the cables, similar to solutions used on ships and ice-breakers to prevent ice accumulation.

The so-called 'ice bombs' incident was a major black eye for the new toll bridge, centrepiece of the new $3.3-billion Port Mann Highway 1 project, just weeks after it officially opened.

Meanwhile, work is also underway on the old Port Mann Bridge, where workers have begun pulling up the asphalt on the Coquitlam approach.

It's the first phase of bridge deconstruction that will then shift to the Surrey approach and finally the main bridge span in between.

"That work has been underway for several weeks now," Logan said.

In each zone, crews will remove the asphalt and then the underlying concrete bridge deck, followed by the underpinning steel girders and, finally, the support columns.

Eight of the 10 lanes of the new bridge have been in use since it officially opened in early December and the remaining two lanes won't open until later this year.

The old bridge's approaches are being dismantled first because they overlap with the approach access for the final two lanes.

"We remove the old approaches and then we're able to begin the process to finish the final two lanes," Logan said.

He predicts the complete removal of the old Port Mann will take 12 to 18 months.

"It will likely be sometime in 2014 before the final bits of the old orange arch disappear and the footings of the bridge are removed as well."

Kiewit/Flatiron is responsible for recycling the steel and other components of the old bridge, and Logan expected the asphalt deck surface may be recycled into other road work underway in the region, such as the new South Fraser Perimeter Road.

Base tolls for unregistered cars double to $3 in March, late fee adds $2.30

More than 640,000 vehicles have now registered with the TReO electronic tolling system for the new Port Mann Bridge.

Project spokesman Max Logan said signups have increased to at least 1,000 more a day as the Feb. 28 deadline nears for motorists to extend the $1.50 introductory toll discount until December.

Those who don't sign up by then will see their tolls double to $3 per crossing next month.

And if they fail to pay the toll within seven days of crossing, an invoice must be mailed out and a licence plate processing fee of $2.30 will be added.

That processing fee had been waived for the first 90 days since the bridge opened in early December.

A total of 400,000 accounts have been established as of Feb. 15, Logan said, noting corporate accounts cover multiple vehicles, sometimes dozens.

"We are very pleased with the sign-up to date," he said.

Logan estimated about 75 per cent of regular users who cross the bridge have a registered account with a TReO decal, which makes it easier and more efficient for the car to be correctly identified and billed than if overhead licence plate cameras are used.

He said it looks like TReO will reach its goal to have 80 per cent of regular users signed up by March.

Logan said it's still too early to say whether large numbers of motorists who would otherwise use the Port Mann are diverting to untolled bridges, such as the Pattullo.

"The traffic patterns haven't really settled down yet," he said, but added traffic volumes on the Port Mann are close to the levels seen at the same time last year.

He said the electronic tolling system is nearly 100 per cent accurate in detecting the vehicles with the TReO decal, but some detection and billing errors are turning up.

"We're going to see some errors from time to time."

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