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Arnprior, Ontario, with a current population of 10,000, may not be the biggest town among greater Ottawa but it is poised for future growth. According to Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation (MTO), expanding Highway 17 from Arnprior to Highway 417 will help enhance safety, improve traffic flow, promote economic growth and boost tourism throughout the Ottawa Valley.

Helping MTO to realize that goal is Thomas Cavanagh Construction, which is managing the highway expansion and multiple bridge construction and rehabilitations along the highway. The $63 million project will transform the former two-lane highway into a four-lane highway as a completely integrated part of Highway 417. Project Manager Craig Angus says under the MTO system, four-lane or more roadways are designated with a 400 number.

This 10-kilometer section of Highway 17 is well on its way to joining the 417 system, and Angus says the project will be completed this fall. “We’ve completely rebuilt or built the new westbound lanes and traffic is now travelling on the westbound lanes,” he says. “We are in the midst of redoing the eastbound lanes and rehabilitating two existing structures. We have two more structures yet to build. Once that is done, we will open the eastbound lanes.”

Water Under the Bridge

For a 10-kilometer project, Angus says this particular construction had a substantial amount of bridge work – eight separate bridges, to be exact. The contract called for the construction of six new bridge structures and the rehabilitation of two existing bridges.

While the precast and steel bridge work is largely the most challenging aspect on this project, Angus says one particular bridge stands out among the bunch.

“One of the structures is more than 300 meters long and crosses over the Madawaska River,” he says. “Because of the size of the bridge – and the fact that it was 23 meters  above water with a dam upstream and a continual flow of water through the river – it was really difficult to construct.”

The construction team built the bridge’s 130-meter span on a barge secured to the riverbed. Once it was built, the team worked with the dam’s officials to shut the dam off for 24 hours. The barge was pushed to the bridge’s location in the middle of the river and the bridge span was lifted into place.

Cavanagh Construction contracted the bridge work to R.W. Tomlinson Ltd. The project also included a fair amount of electrical work that was subcontracted to R.W. Electric. However, most of the work was taken care of in-house.

“We did all of the road building using our own staff and our own equipment,” Angus says. “The benefit to doing things in house is that you have total control and can manage your own staff easier. Having more control allows you to meet the deadline a lot quicker and be more consistent.”

On a job where work on the road and bridges was being done concurrently, Angus says that having tight control was a key factor in its success. Currently, the project has had zero safety incidents.

“We basically were building on multiple parts of the road at once with multiple bridges being built at once, multiple roads being paved at once. It was definitely a busy worksite over the last two years,” he explains. “Our biggest strategy was to keep track of our subcontractors and ensure they met the tight timeframe that we had and make sure everyone was working together to achieve our end result.”

The end result will be open on both the westbound and eastbound lanes this fall. During this period, Cavanagh has been the successful contractor on a second MTO project to expand another section of Highway 17 from Highway 7 to Eagleson.

On the Road Again

For half-a-century, Cavanagh has made its name in greenfield construction projects, such as subdivisions and other developments. Its reputation as a quality contractor brought in enough work from the residential world to keep the Ottawa-based firm busy. As the market has slowed down, Angus says the company has begun to diversify and made strategic moves to get back into some familiar sectors, such as infrastructure work.

“We haven’t needed to go for this type of work in the past, but because of the economy we decided it would be best to venture into other branches of the business,” Angus explains. “We will maintain a presence a here, certainly.”

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