Kingston’s newest bridge provides opportunity for Queen’s students

Dylan Neves, Heshan Fernando, and Isabel Heykoop of Queen’s Ingenuity Labs underneath the new Waaban Crossing earlier this year to install sensors. Supplied photo.

A team of Queen’s students and faculty working out of Ingenuity Labs are leading research on the Waaban Crossing, primarily tracking the impacts of weather on Kingston’s newest bridge.

The team installed sensors on the bearings of a few different piers throughout the length of the bridge, which will monitor the small amounts of expansion and contraction exhibited by the bridge as the temperature changes. The sensors allow engineering researchers to further observe how large infrastructure like the Waaban Crossing behaves under temperature changes, and also allows the City to be quickly notified if for some reason the bridge isn’t moving as it’s supposed to. Students were involved in the building of components for sensors, as well as testing them through temperature changes.

The Waaban Crossing is Kingston’s largest ever infrastructure project, spanning 1.2 km and costing all three levels of government $60 million over four years of construction. As part of such a big project, Kingston hoped to make the bridge a smart bridge, but as costs compounded through the pandemic, that goal would have to be met with some creativity.

Josh Woods, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering and a lead on this project, said that, in order to make that a possibility, the team would have to create their own sensors.

“The reality is with any large construction project, and especially given recent years — really high inflation, challenges with COVID — the budget for the City was stretched thin,” Woods said.

“The funds that had been allocated to monitoring weren’t necessarily going to be available.”

An aerial view of the Waaban Crossing taken in September 2022. Photo by John Andrew.

Woods said developing the sensors was quite an arduous process, but resulted in sensors built at a cost of hundreds of dollars as opposed to commercially available sensors that might cost thousands. While monitoring the movement of bridges isn’t a new concept, Woods said the low cost they’ve been able to achieve, and the application of accelerometers have been a bit of a novelty.

In general, he said it’s a great opportunity to be a part of a relatively rare project.

“Especially in Canada, there aren’t that many bridges that are monitored like this,” Woods said.

“And so having the opportunity to put sensors on a massive infrastructure project and one that’s so close to Queen’s is amazing.”

Master’s student Isabel Heykoop served as manager of the project and will be tracking the data from these sensors as she concludes her thesis in July 2023. Heykoop said getting the opportunity to practically apply concepts from her undergrad to this project has been a great opportunity.

“Being able to use Kingston as kind of our outdoor lab… I learned a lot of theoretical things in my undergrad and kind of taking it and applying it to actual structures was pretty cool to see,” she said.

Along with Heykoop and Woods, Heshan Fernando and Dylan Neves were part of the team.

(Owen Fullerton is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter based in Kingston. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.)

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