Golden Ears Way: Using the Design-Build Process to Support Creativity

The Golden Ears Crossing Project comprised a new 14-kilometre, multi-lane, highway corridor which included a major bridge crossing of the Fraser River. This Public-Private Partnership Project in Metro Vancouver crosses the flood plain of the Fraser River amidst the Coastal Mountains and passes through residential, agricultural and industrial lands. After four years of work on alignment and preparation of bid documents, construction commenced in February 2006 and was completed in the summer of 2009.

The Crossing was conceived as a transportation facility that would be designed and built within the context of its surrounding land uses. The base concept that was used for the design/build proposals required a comprehensive and integrated design approach from each proponent. It incorporated speed management and involved design elements that were in keeping with the surrounding area.

The commitment of context sensitive design led to a mandate to make aesthetics and urban design considerations integral with the technical and financial performance of the project. The RFQ to pre-qualify bidders led to the selection of three teams, of whom two submitted bids to Design, build, operate and maintain the project.

The successful proponent, Golden Crossing Constructors Joint Venture (GCCJV), provided a design theme that built upon the story of the valley beneath the Golden Ears peaks. This incorporated the natural and cultural history of the area, such as the Katzie First Nation, salmon fishing and the eyries of golden eagles. These were reflected in many of the aesthetic features of the bridge. Handrails adorned with metal fish were used to create an image of the salmon traps and nets that had been set across the river for many generations. These high fence verticals, and the absence of guardrail caps at eye level both mitigate suicide attempts (a functional criterion) and provide an open vista up and down the river for bridge users (a perceptual criteria that is hoped will complement speed management). Sculptural eagles circling the cable-support towers at both bridgeheads of the main river bridge symbolize the many eagles whose eyries have long inhabited and overlooked the Fraser River’s expansive splendour.

In addition to these, Translink required identifiable features that characterized the crossing as a context sensitive roadway. Luminous “entry beacons” were used to introduce the gateways and to represent the towering fir and cedar trees that once adorned the banks of the Fraser River. This continuous ribbon of native landscapes reinforces a perception of “parkway” over “highway” along the approaches.

In addition to aesthetic features, geometric design was used to ensure that the crossing provided a positive experience to all road users. Pedestrian Facilities were designed to be attractive and encourage use. The attractiveness of pedestrian ways is a function of their walkability. Their design had to create safe and attractive paths that were free from noise, dirt and fumes. Landscaping features such as planted roadside and median environments were also used to encourage use. All pedestrian facilities took into consideration the special needs of users including creating sidewalks that are accessible for wheelchairs and people who are visually or auditorily impaired.

Bicycle Facilities, in keeping with criteria, were configured to the right hand travel lane so that they could double as emergency stopping lanes for motorized traffic. They were placed all along the arterial road and are clearly marked.

Human factors were also an important consideration for the design of the crossing. The ability of the driver to process road information is the key to the design of a safe road. Human factors were used to provide messages about the intended speed for the arterial and to provide characteristics for safe operation by drivers unfamiliar with the route. Curvilinear roads approaching the bridge were used to manage speed as were landscaping and horizontal alignment features.

The bridge and roadway provides an essential north south link for community building, serving industrial traffic enabling transit, encouraging cycling, as well as eliminating lengthy trips that formerly had to funnel into the Port Mann and out the Pitt River Bridge and vice versa. The Golden Ears Bridge integrated aesthetic and geometric design to create an arterial crossing that is both accessible and visually appealing.

Image Sources: Polaroid, Bridge with Eagle,GEB at night, Biking on the bridge