Noden Causeway

Bridging the Past and Present by Improving Highway 11

Originally built in the early 1960s, Ontario’s Noden Causeway consists of a major section of TransCanada Highway 11 that crosses Rainy Lake. Noden Causeway bridges the communities west of the Thunder Bay area and serves as a high-traffic transportation route for travelers. George Armstrong Co. Limited (Armstrong Co.), a Fort Frances-based general contractor, played a major role in the original construction of Noden Causeway, and is now contracted for the highly anticipated $40 million renewal.

George Armstrong founded Armstrong Co. in 1952. Today, the contractor remains family-owned and -operated by the father and son team of Larry and Shane Armstrong, president and vice president of Armstrong Co., respectively.

“Between my 37-year-old son Shane and myself, we’re a fully hands-on operation,” shares Larry. After many decades, Larry knows what it takes to run a business. “I’ve been in the industry my whole life; since I was 15 years old,” he recalls. “I’m now 66 years old now. When my father passed away in 2001, my son and I took over the business.”

The tried-and-true company has remained in family ownership for over 60 years. Today, Armstrong Co. operates with a small, yet highly capable full-time staff of 10. “We’re not a giant outfit, but we’ve been doing highway work since our founding,” explains Larry. “You have to be qualified to do Ministry of Transportation work, which is based on years of experience. We’re a very reputable company.”

Strengthening the Local Economy through Familiar Sites

The company is no stranger to the Noden Causeway site, as Armstrong Co. played a major role in constructing the original bridge in the early 1960s when George ran the company. According to Larry, Armstrong Co. provided the original build with: supply and delivery of the 28,000 cubic yards of concrete for the precasting of all the bridge components; building of the grade and rock fills for the approaches to the three bridge structures; and lifting all of the bridge girders, which was done off the ice that had flooded over 3 feet more than the normal thickness to support the immense weight of the cranes and components being lifted.

“This site has been a big part of our lives for years and years,” says Larry. “Now it’s coming full circle, and we’re rebuilding it.” Bidding began multiphase reconstruction in winter 2009; the overall revitalization is set to complete by fall 2014.

Armstrong Co. originally signed on for a small portion of the job when the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario put the first phase of the piling repair up for tender in winter 2009. “What started as a small contract grew, because we knew we could handle it,” says Larry. “We’re right at home.”

Larry isn’t joking when he says Noden Causeway is right at home; the company really couldn’t get more local. “In fact, I can sit in my living room and look 4 miles down the lake and see the bridge,” Larry laughs. In addition to Armstrong Co. crews, the site will bring several jobs to the company’s hometown Fort Frances area.

The investment is part of the Canadian government’s McGuinty Growth Plan designed to revamp northern Ontario’s roads in an effort to build a stronger northern economy. “Our government is improving infrastructure across the province, while creating jobs and strengthening our economy,” details Bob Chiarelli, minister of Canada’s infrastructure and transportation. “Projects such as reconstructing the Noden Causeway will help ensure our roads and bridges are safe and in good condition for years to come.”

Since 2003 the provincial government has invested more than $4.5 billion in northern highways and roadways, improving 2,560 kilometers of highway and 185 bridges. The initiative has lead to construction of 105 kilometers of new four-lane highway and 115 brand-new bridges throughout northern Ontario.

Revitalizing a Past Endeavor

Armstrong Co. is responsible for repairing all of the steel pilings, which are driven through the lake bottom down to bedrock. This is no small feat, as there are 1,113 piles in total.

“We’re providing all of the marine work with professional divers,” explains Larry. “We are installing an Advanced Pile Encapsulation System on the pilings to protect the piles from any further microbial-influenced corrosion, which has been attacking the steel piles for the past 50 years. The bridge is comprised of three sections at each crossing; the first totaling 2,000 feet, the second at 1,800 feet and the third at 450 feet.

Armstrong Co. has hired Manitoba-based Dominion Divers Ltd. to complete the underwater component of the project. According to Larry, he would have done some of the diving himself if he was still able to. “I have years of commercial diving experience,” Larry shares. “I used to dive off the bridge some 50 years ago.”

The team at Armstrong Co. acknowledges the project presented some challenges in its infancy, as stormy weather and rough water made for the occasional struggle for crews under the bridge. However, once a rhythm was established, work went along smoothly for Armstrong Co. “It’s very repetitive work,” describes Larry. “Once all of the bugs were worked out of our routine, the operation became very efficient.”

Once Noden Causeway is complete, Armstrong Co. will have the pride of knowing the team provided a valuable service to the local community. Under the second and third generation of Armstrong family leadership, the team’s role in the reconstruction of Noden Causeway brings George Armstrong Co. Limited’s past work full-circle, revitalizing a structure that will continue to serve as an important link of transportation for the region.

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