The Brief

Central Bridge was rebuilt from a log bridge in 1928, revamped in 1960, and again in 1988. By 2018, the crossing needed to be rehabilitated for another century of service. While the project called for a bridge replacement, it also presented the perfect opportunity for us to beautify the Town of Carleton Place as a whole.

Project Overview

A bridge to strengthen community connections

Located on Bridge Street, the Central Bridge in Carleton Place is an important downtown corridor connecting the north and south sides of the Town across the Mississippi River. By 2018, the historic three-span steel girder bridge had become a pressing concern for the Town as it was nearing the end of its service life. An environmental assessment and public consultations also identified other concerns for the community, including the need for better roadways and overall beautification of the area. RVA was retained by the Town to provide detailed design and tendering services for the project, which encompassed the Central Bridge replacement, the rehabilitation of the five-span Gilles Bridge, 0.7km of road reconstruction on Bridge Street, a new watermain crossing, and enhanced streetscaping.

Placemaking for Carleton Place

Design choices have big impacts on community wellness. Our team prioritized a collaborative approach that centered local residents and business owners at the heart of the design process, holding five Public Information Centres during the EA and design phases to foster a sense of community ownership and pride. To understand the impact on and needs of the local community, the design team also established a working group of local stakeholders – consisting of Town staff and councillors, the Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Carleton Place Business Improvement Area (BIA), the Urban Forest Committee, and Accessibility Committee – which provided feedback and ideas throughout the project.

Heritage design for modern needs

Through extensive outreach meetings and surveys, the local community conveyed a shared desire to honour the Town’s natural and cultural heritage. Our design goal was to complement the historic character of the Town’s central business district and its iconic Town Hall, while introducing modern structures with enhanced durability to serve this fast-growing community for many more years to come.

Our architectural enhancements encouraged the use of Central Bridge as a community space, with an eye towards sustainable infrastructure. Using locally-sourced materials wherever feasible, the bridge was outfitted with new street furniture, light fixtures (including the first use of “Historia” lighting that required seismic verification), color-impressed asphalt and splash pads, form liners with uplighting, and stone pattern facing that is reflective of the Town Hall stonework. We also added new lookout areas that offer breathtaking views of the Mississippi River.

Using cofferdams, a floating barge system, and diving crews, we rehabilitated the existing stone piers of the bridge using grouted steel micro-piles with minimal disturbance to the watercourse. We managed to maintain the existing road profile while simultaneously raising the soffit elevation by using NU900 prestressed girders with higher structural capacity and reduced depth compared to the original girders. The team also voluntarily installed a new oil-grit separator with treatment flows of 94 liters per second, effectively improving water quality in the Mississippi River and reducing turbidity of storm sewer outflows. All work was completed in close consultation with the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority (MVCA), including approvals for fisheries timing windows, tree conservation, and environmental preservation.

Design for everyone

As the only major bridge crossing in the Town, the closure of Central Bridge during construction necessitated increased traffic volumes on several detour routes. To keep people and commuters moving seamlessly through Carleton Place, our team implemented road safety improvements on detours through the five-span Gilles Bridge (a heritage structure in its own right), Bell Street, and the Ottawa Valley Trail, as well as a new watermain crossing at McArthur Island. In the end, we were able to add 40 wheelchair-friendly entrances to local businesses and AODA-compliant crosswalks with improved pedestrian access. By pursuing an aggressive schedule that limited construction to a single season, our team maintained widespread public support even during periods of community disruptions.

In 2018, we set out on a mission to beautify the heart of Carleton Place and inspire new connections in the community. In less than five years after the initial environmental assessment, Central Bridge was reopened in time for a ribbon-cutting and first drive ceremony on December 22, 2022. The finished crossing provides improved safety on the bridge barriers, increased peak flows through the river opening while maintaining the same road profile, and augmented architectural features that reflect the unique heritage of Downtown Carleton Place. By balancing accessibility, historical context, and structural durability, our team was able to turn this historic crossing into a dignified and equitable community space for current and future generations.