Edmonton: our bridge master’s professional dream

There’s probably nothing more critical to the smooth operation of our city than its bridges and overpasses. Without them, nothing moves.

And so it is that a team of as many as 30 City of Edmonton employees work under Senior Bridge Engineer Shiraz Kanji’s guidance to make darn sure that our bridges, overpasses, and large culverts in the city’s outlying reaches, remain safe.

We’re in good hands, because Shiraz is obviously good at what he does. If you could measure his enthusiasm for bridges, the readings would be steroidal.

In fact, after a long career – including 17 years as a consultant on two continents and 27 years with the City – you’d think he’d be preoccupied with retirement.

Not so.

“This is a great time for bridges in Edmonton. We’re building a signature bridge to replace the Walterdale Bridge. We’re also building a new bridge to replace the old 102nd Avenue bridge over Groat Road, and a new pedestrian bridge over the river at Terwillegar. Lots of different designs cross my desk. And there’s great interest in Edmonton from the industry all across Canada.

“I’m having a lot of fun at my job!” he grins.

Shiraz says this is a great time for bridge engineers in Edmonton, with three major projects underway. Having too much fun. No time to retire!
Shiraz says this is a great time for bridge engineers in Edmonton, with three major projects underway. Having too much fun. No time to retire!

Shiraz and his team – an assistant bridge engineer, two bridge technicians and up to 28 summer maintenance staff – are charged with the safety of 347 bridges. A little less than half are small installations in parks that are maintained by Community Services.

With an annual budget of $2.5 million, Team Shiraz inspects all 347 structures regularly. They report findings to parks staff for action, and they perform scheduled maintenance and required repairs on the balance of 185.

River crossings are inspected and maintained annually. Overpasses and pedestrian bridges are on a 3-year schedule, and large culverts are inspected on a 5-year basis.

Inspections focus on conditions that affect public safety. Primary attention is given to decks, girders and joints (an example being the interlocking finger-joints on a bridge deck enabling the deck to expand and contract with temperature changes), as well as on bearings (which sit atop piers or supports, bearing the weight of the deck).

Winter road salt and sand are enemies, so the team power washes the upper portions of each bridge – the salt-splash zone – and the abutment seats every spring. Every three to five years, they apply a penetrating sealant onto deck surfaces to further resist salt deterioration.

The team is also responsible for filling potholes, repairing minor damage (to concrete or railings as a result of vehicle collisions) and removing graffiti.

Shiraz knows well the frustration of motorists delayed when bridge work shuts down a lane on major bridges, but he’s a glass-half-full kind of guy.

“A slowdown is not bad news. Our work is good news, because we’re proactively making sure that bridges continue to be safe.”

Shiraz is particularly excited about the new Walterdale Bridge and its meaning to the city as a whole.

“We’re a big city. We’re the capital. We need to look and feel both big and proud of ourselves. With the new arena, the Art Gallery of Alberta, City Hall, expanding LRT, we’re well on the way.

“And the new bridge will be a major contribution to that big-city look and feel.”

:  Shiraz Kanji manages 30 City of Edmonton employees who keep our bridges, overpasses and culverts safe.
: Shiraz Kanji manages 30 City of Edmonton employees who keep our bridges, overpasses and culverts safe.