Monitoring a major new infrastructure project
February 28, 2023
A team of students and faculty members from Queen’s Ingenuity Labs recently found themselves high above Kingston’s Cataraqui River looking down from the new $180 million Waaban Crossing bridge. But they were not on top of the new structure. They were on ladders underneath it, installing sensors on the joints and bearings so the city will be able to monitor how the bridge is working in real time.
Waaban Crossing, named after an Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe) word relating to the east and sunrise, is 1.2 km long and took more than four years to build before opening in December 2022. All three levels of government contributed $60 million each to the project.
During the construction phase, the City of Kingston approached Queen’s to partner in finding tools that could help track the performance of this major new piece of infrastructure. After more than a year of testing and preparation, the Ingenuity Labs team is now using leading-edge technology to help the city monitor the safety and integrity of the bridge in an efficient and cost-effective way.
“One of our goals at Ingenuity Labs is to bring together researchers and students with different areas of expertise to work on projects that can contribute to the betterment of society,” says Josh Woods, Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering and the Mitchell Professor in Intelligent Infrastructure Monitoring at Ingenuity Labs. “Major infrastructure projects like the Waaban Crossing don’t happen often, so it was a great opportunity for our team to contribute to a project that will affect literally thousands of people every day. For our students, it was also a chance to take all the theory they’d learned in the classroom and apply it to the real world on a large scale.”
Without sensor technology, municipalities typically rely on annual or biannual visual inspections of bridges to determine if there are any issues. With these sensors, the city will have constant access to real-time quantitative data that can help them make more informed decisions about the performance and maintenance of the structure.
The sensors collect data that examine how the bridge’s expansion joints and bearings perform as the concrete expands and contracts with changes in seasons and temperatures. To ensure the sensors worked properly and could withstand the conditions they’d face under the bridge, the team put them through comprehensive tests in a variety of conditions, including lying them under the sun on top of Ellis Hall, the home of the Queen’s Department of Civil Engineering, and letting them sit in a freezer for extended periods of time.
The Ingenuity Labs team will also be using drones to supplement the data from the sensors with detailed visual inspections that will capture aspects of the bridge that would be very difficult to see otherwise.
Students integral to the project
A Queen’s post-doctoral fellow and two Queen’s students are playing instrumental roles in the project: Isabel Heykoop, a graduate student in the Master of Applied Science program; Heshan Fernando, a post-doctoral fellow at Ingenuity Labs; and Dylan Neves, an undergraduate student in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.
“As an undergraduate at Queen’s, I studied how bridges are designed and built in my coursework, and now as a graduate student I’m getting the chance to see all those principles in action,” says Heykoop. “It means a lot to me to be able to use what I’ve learned to make a contribution that will improve the lives of people for years to come.”