Piecing together the Connors Road footbridge project

There’s a lot of Edmonton in the Connors Road footbridge story.

The rivery valley system the footbridge is a part of, the Valley Line Southeast vision it serves, the brilliant technical work to switch it out, its refurbished future in Blackmud Creek, its replacement called ᑳᐦᐊᓯᓃᐢᑳᐠ Kâhasinîskâk—all of this is fanfare for a footbridge project that also includes the basic work a footbridge does in getting Edmontonians safely to the other side.

Have a minute? Here’s a visual summary of what’s afoot:

Edmonton’s jewel

If you have time to go a little further, here’s some urban planning and engineering history:

The bridge, located near the base of Connors Road near Gallagher Park, was built in the heyday of the early 1980s. It was a time of massive expansion throughout the city, and about a decade after Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed had formally unified a 14.5 km stretch of parks in Edmonton’s urban core into the Capital City Recreation Park.

This park system was the original “ribbon of green” in Edmonton—an early proof of what would develop over the next half century into Edmonton’s jewel: the North Saskatchewan river valley parks system.

The Connors Road pedestrian bridge is seen here in a cropped aerial photo from 1988 courtesy of the City of Edmonton Archives 1988Aerial_Ln22_No43.

From the beginning, pedestrian bridges like the one over Connors Road were important parts of the river valley path network, connecting people to their favorite destinations. The pedestrian bridge over Connors Road connected the Mill Creek Ravine to the Muttart Conservatory grounds, Gallagher Park and beyond.  


In the early 1980s, another vital piece of people-moving, people-connecting infrastructure was newly on the go in Edmonton: the LRT. The trains didn’t yet cross the river to the south side. And today’s modern, urban-style Valley Line LRT was still a quarter-century away from being approved by City Council and years on top of that from being built by TransEd.

Valley Line South LRT construction, foreground, Connors Road, background, June 10, 2020

With pieces like the footbridge slotting into place, the future of the LRT arrives. The Valley Line Southeast will take passengers to and from Mill Woods and Downtown Edmonton, passing up and down Connors Road.

But not before the footbridge challenge was identified and solved. Planners saw that the catenary system on the trains (the overhead wires that power the trains) would need more room. 

The solution: rebuild the footbridge in the same location, but slightly higher.

The safety bonus: a newly constructed design would also eliminate the sharp, 90-degree angles encountered by pedestrians and cyclists entering and exiting the footbridge. It would also provide better sightlines for all users.

A step forward for footbridge recycling

Here’s where the footbridge story takes a recycling twist.

Yes, the existing footbridge wouldn’t work on the site, but, yes, it still had years of service in its steel.

After a detailed engineering assessment, the City determined that the main truss—the span that crossed over Connors Road—could be used to replace another bridge in Blackmud Creek in the city’s south end.

The bridge over Blackmud Creek was built for automobile traffic by the Province of Alberta in 1971. It was closed to vehicle traffic in 1994, and kept open for pedestrians and cyclists. It remains a beloved connector in the community today.

Existing, and to be replaced, bridge in Blackmud Creek

This is the first time that a pedestrian bridge in Edmonton will be replaced using a piece of recycled infrastructure.

Recycling the Connors Road pedestrian footbridge means a quicker turnaround on the construction at Blackmud Creek, the cost-effective use of existing resources and a lesser environmental impact than building and installing a replacement footbridge there.

Piece, out

This is where the story gets super interesting visually.

Typically, crews would cut a footbridge like the Connors Road footbridge into smaller pieces for an easier trip to a recycling centre or landfill. To save the truss and make it easier to reinstall at Blackmud Creek, it needed to be transported in one piece.

But, at 42 metres long and weighing in at just over 51,000 kilograms, the truss would not be a walk in the park to move.

The crew checked and double-checked the connection between the rigging and the footbridge.

On moving day in May, the crew set up a 65-tonne crane. Ironworkers attached a spreader bar (the yellow bar shown in the picture above) and slings and cables from the crane to the footbridge to spread the weight of the truss and make it easier to hold steady and level.

We have liftoff!  Suspended by the crane, no longer connected to the centre pier.

With the crane securely holding the structure, ironworkers cut through steel bolts to disconnect the bolts that fastened the footbridge to the support pier. Then the crane lifted it free.

Time to rotate!

The crew used guidewires attached to each side of the truss to rotate it so it was ready to be loaded onto a trailer.

Setting it down slowly and carefully.

The footbridge was carefully lowered and finessed into place, with the crew ensuring that the load was balanced and safe to transport.

Just how big was that trailer?

At 32 metres long and with 96 wheels (to spread the weight of the load evenly), that trailer wasn’t like typical trucks seen on Edmonton streets. By a mile.

The footbridge safely arrived at its new, temporary home.

From Connors Road, the footbridge traveled to a City storage yard where it will have new guard rails and a concrete deck (the part people walk on) added before it gets installed over Blackmud Creek, near 111 Street and 16 Avenue NW, in next year.

Moving the Kâhasinîskâk in

There’s more to the story.

And there’s more precision work from the transport teams, the cranes and the crews on the new footbridge.

The replacement foot footbridge, named ᑳᐦᐊᓯᓃᐢᑳᐠ or Kâhasinîskâk, and pronounced kâ-(h)a-si-nî-skâk, is an historical Cree reference to Mill Creek. It translates as “slow moving water over stones” in English, and connects visibly to the fact that the City of Edmonton sits on Treaty 6 territory.

Welded together and ready for transport! Photo courtesy Supreme Steel.

The new steel footbridge made quite a journey.

It was constructed in four pieces to make it easier to transport from Rapid-Span in Armstrong, British Columbia, to Acheson, near Edmonton, where a local company, Supreme Steel, welded it together. It made its final trek to its new home over Connors Road as one very large piece

Instead of being loaded onto a semi-trailer, the Kâhasinîskâk footbridge was the trailer.

Self-Propelled Modular Transporters (SPMTs) with 122 wheels supported each half (244 wheels in total) of the footbridge-trailer. Each axle of the SPMT can be independently controlled, so the driver could handle curves and turns in the road. It was driven slowly to site in the wee hours of the morning.

The two-crane technique used rigging connected to engineered beams underneath the bridge.

Once on site, the steel footbridge was rigged up to two cranes to help crews hold one side steady while making small adjustments to the other side. Its smooth sides made it impossible to connect to the crane directly. Instead, each crane was connected to a specially engineered steel beam which supported the weight of the footbridge.

It’s up!

The crew spread out to direct the crane operators as they lifted each side up onto new concrete abutments and a support pier, built by TransEd earlier this year.

The main structure is in place, the look will change once the handrails are in place.

The new footbridge is 59 metres from end to end and will stand 6.6 metres above the road. There will be ample space for vehicles and the new Valley Line Southeast LRT infrastructure (overhead catenary system and light rail vehicles) underneath.

With the main span in place, TransEd will add handrails and pave the footbridge to complete the connection to the existing river valley path network.

River valley path users can expect to use the footbridge later this summer.

It all fits

The Kâhasinîskâk footbridge has been designed to complement the natural flow of Edmonton’s river valley. Thanks for taking a trip along the story of the footbridge, and into the story of the community it comes from—and supports.