Innovators in infrastructure

Ontario’s engineers bring their ingenuity to transit, hydropower, stadiums and more

Building a new light rail transit (LRT) line is no small task – particularly when it’s going right through the middle of a thriving city and you must minimize disruption to the local population.
That was the challenge for the team of engineers working on Ottawa’s new Confederation Line, a 12.5-kilometre LRT system that will stretch across the city from east to west. Their solution is now playing out all over the nation’s capital in an elaborately designed and staged construction process that will continue until the line opens in May 2018.

The $2.1-billion project – the largest in the city’s history, save perhaps for the creation of the Rideau Canal in the early 1800s – is testament to the power of Ontario’s engineers to address challenges and produce the infrastructure marvels all around us.

“We are building something that will entirely change the way people in Ottawa move about,” says Roger Woodhead, P.Eng., design manager of the project for RTGE Joint Venture, a joint venture of SNC-Lavalin Inc. and MMM Group.

Large infrastructure projects often present significant engineering challenges. Combining technical expertise with innovative approaches has enabled engineering teams to find solutions that make a concrete difference to our quality of life. From top: Rogers Centre; Confederation Line; Lower Mattagami Power Station (Ontario Power Generation)

Large infrastructure projects often present significant engineering challenges. Combining technical expertise with innovative approaches has enabled engineering teams to find solutions that make a concrete difference to our quality of life. From top: Rogers Centre; Confederation Line; Lower Mattagami Power Station (Ontario Power Generation)

Construction started more than a year ago on the Confederation Line, a public-private partnership between the City of Ottawa and Rideau Transit Group (RTG), which is led by ACS Infrastructure Canada Inc., SNC-Lavalin Inc. and EllisDon Corp. But before any shovels were in the ground the project’s design team – including civil, mechanical, geotechnical, structural, electrical, communications and acoustical engineers – worked out how to minimize its impact on the city.

That meant everything from devising a mining method to create the 2.5-kilometre tunnel passing underneath Ottawa’s downtown core to carrying out the project in phases so that cars and trucks can be diverted and city buses can continue to run, says Dr. Woodhead. “It’s very exciting but also very challenging.”

Just as Ontario’s engineers addressed the challenge of keeping the traffic flowing while the transit system is being built in Ottawa, they were also responsible for keeping the water flowing in the Lower Mattagami River in northern Ontario during the construction of new powerhouses in four existing hydroelectric dams there.

People are at the heart of everything we do. You [build] something of great use, and you get a great feeling of pride from that.

— Roger Woodhead, P.Eng., is design manager for Ottawa’s Confederation Line

With 500 megawatts of new generating capacity – the province’s largest hydro development in almost 40 years – the $2.6-billion design-build project for Ontario Power Generation and the Moose Cree First Nation began in 2006 with a feasibility study. The five-year construction phase is scheduled for completion next June.

Fadi Chidiac, P.Eng., director of project execution management for renewable power at Hatch Ltd., which represents the project owners, says the work required constructing massive multi-cell coffer dams in three of the four power stations. This temporarily held back the water so crews could excavate and install the new powerhouses, while allowing water to flow to those still operating.

“It’s a very complicated exercise,” he says, explaining that these were the biggest coffer dams ever built in North America. Another significant challenge was the remoteness of the project, with the four facilities spread along 20 kilometres of the river, some 80 kilometres from Kapuskasing, Ontario.

Remote locations bring their own engineering challenges, but so to do projects in the heart of urban centres. The engineers tasked with constructing the SkyDome (now known as the Rogers Centre) in downtown Toronto in the 1980s faced a particularly tough challenge: creating a multi-purpose sports stadium with a fully retractable roof on a relatively small site.
Mike Allen, P.Eng., the senior engineer on the project who is now president of Adjeleian Allen Rubeli Ltd., says the compact site at the base of the CN Tower meant there would be no place to put the SkyDome roof when it was removed. “It had to disappear somewhere.”

Mr. Allen and architect Rod Robbie designed a circular stadium, perfect for baseball and the other sports and events it would host. It had a domed roof carved into a series of panels that would slide on parallel and circular tracks as it opened, telescoping and nesting at one end.

“There was a lot of doubt whether it would work,” Mr. Allen says, recalling the “team effort” by engineers on the design-build project. There were large-scale models created and tests in laboratories at the University of Toronto.

“It was hands-on engineering,” says Walter Woloshyn, now retired, who was the director of the SkyDome project for contractor EllisDon Corp. One issue was how to seal the spaces between the closed panels so the inside of the stadium remained comfortable and dry. The solution was a rubber membrane that inflated “like a balloon” to fill the cracks.

“Not only was it a challenge, it was a one-off, a first,” he says. “Everyone bought into the process and contributed.”

The stadium opened to applause in 1989 and this year celebrated its 25th anniversary, with the roof still performing perfectly. “They haven’t missed a ballgame,” says Mr. Woloshyn.

One common element of these infrastructure mega-projects is the public attention they attract and advantages they offer, from the Toronto ball fans watching the opening and closing of the Rogers Centre roof to the Ontarians benefiting from the clean power generated on the Lower Mattagami and the residents of Ottawa who will ride the Confederation Line. “People are at the heart of everything we do,” says Dr. Woodhead.

It’s satisfying to engineers that these massive infrastructure projects “make a big difference,” he adds. “You built something that’s of use, and you get a great feeling of pride from that.”


ABOUT

2014 Ontario Professional Engineers Awards Gala
November 22, 2014 – The International Centre

Since 1947, the Ontario Professional Engineers Awards have recognized professional engineers in Ontario who have made outstanding contributions to their profession and their community. Professional Engineers Ontario and the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers are proud to co-host the awards gala in celebration of the very best of engineering. This year’s gala will feature keynote speaker Mike Allen, P.Eng. – the senior engineer on the Rogers Centre – and will focus on engineering marvels in infrastructure and the impact these projects have on making Ontario the best place to live, work and play. Awards will be presented for excellence in engineering innovation, leadership and entrepreneurship.

For more information, please visit www.ospe.on.ca/opea.
For full report, visit globeandmail.com/adv/OPEA2014.