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Meet the Big Lifters 

The hard-working people rebuilding the Macdonald Bridge, one deck segment at a time.

click to enlarge Do you even Big Lift, bro? - REBECCA DINGWELL
  • Do you even Big Lift, bro?

Everybody’s working for the weekend. At least, that’s the case for folks involved with the Big Lift project.

On this particular Sunday morning, it’s sunny. Lucky for the workers. It usually takes high winds for a day’s work to get cancelled—15 meters per second, to be exact.

This weekend’s re-decking began on Friday and is already complete. The 15th and 16th bridge segments have been replaced, and workers are already preparing for the following week’s work.

Walking onto the bridge from the Dartmouth side, folks from Cumberland Paving are patching up the road’s temporary wearing surface. The further you walk, the louder it gets.

Eventually, we come across the lifting gantry: A huge, yellow contraption which basically acts as a crane to help place the deck segments. If you’ve driven on the bridge lately, you’ve driven under it.

As the iron workers make adjustments to the gantry, Lesley Mercer watches from a short distance.

“There’s so many different challenges that come day-to-day,” says Mercer. Her job involves everything from administrative work to safety. “One day is never the same as the next.”

Before she got involved with The Big Lift, Mercer worked in the oil and gas industry. She jumped at the chance to work on the bridge when she saw the opportunity.

“A project like this...when are you ever going to get the chance again to work on something like that around here?”

Work began on replacing the Angus L. Macdonald Bridge early last year. The so-called “old bridge” has been showing signs of its age. Halifax Harbour Bridges says after over 60 years, the bridge is still safe, but it needs some fixing up in order to extend its life and cut down on the need for future maintenance.

HHB took American Bridge Canada Company on as the contractor for the harbour-spanning project. The hope is that by 2017, all 46 deck segments will be replaced. But other work will need to be done as well. For example, they’ll be de-humidifying the main cables—the large orange ones that span along the bridge.

A waterproof membrane is wrapped around the cables before the de-humidifying can take place. This process keeps the humidity inside the cable at a certain level, which prevents corrosion.

“That cable is obviously the most important part of a suspension bridge, because that’s what the bridge hangs from,” says Alison MacDonald, HHB’s communications manager.

ABCC currently has 77 iron workers on staff, including 74 local union members, general foremen and the superintendent. “You should try feeding them on the weekend,” says Mercer, laughing.

To get on the Macdonald Bridge during construction—whether or not you’re doing any heavy lifting—safety training and gear are required. Some of the workers wear hardhats covered in stickers, reminiscent of a touring musician’s guitar case—mementos for the previous projects they’ve worked on.

Jeremiah Biter is an engineer originally from Pittsburgh. He’s done work in his hometown as well as Las Vegas. As for Halifax—well, it isn’t Vegas. Biter doesn’t mind it, though.

“It’s reminds me a little bit of Pittsburgh,” he says. “People try not to take life too seriously, have a little fun.”

Being only on the daily grind, Biter says it can be easy to forget he’s part of something huge.

“But, it’s very cool,” he adds. “It’s nice to put your name on such landmark structures and know that you made a big impact in a city.”

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