When Silence Is Golden

Every night, the Jacques Cartier bridge comes alive.

When darkness falls, it illuminates and paints the Montreal sky the color of major events taking place in the city, changing hues like a chameleon. Opened in 1930, this iconic bridge has been undergoing important restoration work for the past 20 years.

Every day and night, I have the opportunity to admire its beauty, but it’s the part of the bridge that most people don’t see, its underside, that I’m most familiar with, having supervised refection work to the structure for over six years now. As part of a $96M restoration program, our teams have been working on reinforcing the steel structure in the Montreal portion of the bridge, to maintain its integrity and expand its service life. Unfortunately, operations such as bolting and removing rivets causes significant noise disturbances, and because we are in a densely populated area, with houses, condominiums and businesses near the bridge, we owed it to our stakeholders to be sensitive to their concerns and to listen carefully to their interests.

A Montrealer myself, I’ve gotten to know several people who live or own businesses near the bridge. In some cases, there are only a few steps separating other structures from the bridge.

Determined to maintain good relations with the community, our client, Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated (JCCBI), created an online citizen forum to foster and facilitate open dialog with residents and merchants impacted by work on the bridge. During those conversations, participants identified noise as being the main inconvenience created by the rehabilitation work.

As the project manager, and as a member of the community, I wanted to be part of the solution.
Working closely with acoustics experts, our team conducted analyses to pinpoint the sources of noise and determine where it goes, so we could recommend mitigation measures.

With our client fully on board, we didn’t lose any time implementing our recommended sound mitigation solutions, consisting of acoustic screens to dampen work noise, confining compressors in sheds made of plywood, wool and soundproof panels, building a noise abatement wall near a residence, and using low noise generators.

Eliminating noise may sound simple, but it’s a huge challenge. The reinforcement operations generate a lot of noise. I had to combine traditional engineering and active listening to preserve the soundscape for everyone. I needed to adapt both the planning and the size of the work, so it can be carried out with minimum impact.

In the end, the solution we designed significantly exceeds industry standards, which is fitting, because this project is far from standard. The Jacques Cartier bridge is a beautiful bridge by day, that becomes simply magnificent as it illuminates the night sky. Under the bridge, while far from being classified as a work of art, the sound barriers are nonetheless a source of pride for me, as they allow for our work to go unnoticed. And sometimes, going unnoticed is a beautiful thing, some may call it golden.

Éric Bellavance, P.Eng., M.A.Sc., Pmp | Project Manager | Montreal, QC

*Originally published in EXP’s Expresso: Convergence