In lifting test, Johnson Street Bridge quietly rises to maximum angle

The new Johnson Street Bridge rose quietly to its full 77-degree tilt for the first time on Tuesday afternoon.

“The amazing thing is that it’s almost silent,” said project director Jonathan Huggett. “If somebody hadn’t told you it was rising, you wouldn’t have known.”

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The 46-metre span, 470 tonnes of steel, rose about 2 p.m. to 77 degrees, its greatest angle. The lift followed a 10:30 a.m. test in which the bridge rose to about 20 degrees before descending.

Huggett said with any major engineering project, minor problems are expected during the first few operations. Some debris fell during the lifts, including gravel and construction scraps.

“It’s normal,” he said. “Everybody should know not to stand near when you lift something for the first time.”

The bridge, designed to lift so that marine traffic can pass, is scheduled to open for motor vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians at the end of March.

Tuesday morning’s lift was actually the second time the bridge went up. The first was on Monday night, when it went up about 20 degrees.

Huggett said that knowing the sorts of things that can go wrong when a large engineering project is first tested, he did not want to make the first lift during the day. “There was no way I was going to allow them to lift it for the first time in broad daylight with cameras rolling,” he said. “The last thing you need when the cameras are rolling is to have a ‘bang’ and then all of a sudden something goes wrong.”

James Younger was downtown on Monday night with a friend and said he didn’t see more than 12 people watching.

Younger and his friend wanted to photograph the bridge at night and just happened by when workers warned the two to be careful because the first lift was about to happen.

“They said the bosses will get upset if they see anybody taking pictures,” he said.

“They don’t want to see it recorded.”

When the bridge started to lift, a few pedestrians stopped to watch, and so did motorists, with some people leaving their vehicles to get a better view.

“People were giddy, to say the least,” Younger said. “They were really, really excited, running out of their cars to get a look.”

The bridge project is expected to cost $105 million. When citizens voted in the 2010 bridge referendum, the estimate was $63 million.

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