Belfast cross-harbour road and rail bridges

Year:1995

Duration:3 years

Cost:£27.7m (£48m today)

Country: Belfast, UK

What did this project achieve?

Significantly improve road and rail links for the city of Belfast

By the 1980s the crossings over Belfast's River Lagan – including the Queen's Bridge and the Albert Bridge - were struggling to cope with traffic.

Congestion in the city centre was getting worse and journey times slower. Air pollution from cars and lorries was rising.

City authorities had been trying to deal with Belfast's traffic problems since the 1960s with little success. An elevated road around the city had been suggested and designed but only a short length of dual carriageway was ever built.

The 1990s saw major regeneration work across the city. As part of this 2 new bridges were planned for the River Lagan – both just upstream from the harbour area.

The Lagan Road Bridge was built to help relieve congestion and air pollution in the area. The 790m bridge connects the M2 in the north to the M1 in the south and to the A2 in the east.

The parallel Dargan Rail Bridge was designed to connect 2 previously separate rail networks. At 1,490m it's the longest bridge in Ireland.

The new bridges were opened by the Queen in March 1995.

Difference all the crossings have made

The new bridges improved Belfast's infrastructure by connecting road and rail networks – they're seen as a major economic lifeline for the city.

The Lagan Road Bridge has made it easier for cars and lorries to cross the area. 90,000 vehicles now use the bridge every day. It's eased congestion and brought down pollution levels.

The Dargan Rail Bridge linked up the 2 previously unconnected railway systems across Belfast.

The project helped get people and goods around the area more easily, so helping boost the local economy.

The 2 bridges are credited with acting as a catalyst for economic development right across Northern Ireland.

How the work was done

Engineers built both bridges using concrete box construction. 828 precast units were needed for the land spans and 230 for the river spans. All were fabricated in a specially built factory nearby.

Heavy duty crawler cranes were used to lift the land segments into place. A crawler crane moves on tracks similar to those on an army tank.

The river segments were loaded onto a barge and towed into position using tugboats. A crawler crane strapped to the deck of a flat top barge then lifted the segments into position.

Engineers used computer simulations to test the barge's capability. This helped them calculate, for example, how much ballast was needed and where it should be placed for safe working.

The concrete segments were 4m long, up to 12m deep and weighed up to 95 tonnes.

Engineers fitted the deck segments together by applying an epoxy resin to the joints and post tensioning them together - a first for this technique in Ireland.

"​‌

There is no turning back on the road to peace.

Prime Minister Tony Blair

on the Northern Ireland peace process.

Fascinating facts

Designs for the project were assessed by the Royal Fine Art Commission, an independent body that advises government on aesthetics in public buildings.

The project was completed in 153 weeks and handed over to the client 7 weeks ahead of schedule.

 

People who made it happen

  • Clients: Northern Ireland Road Service, Northern Ireland Railways
  • Designers: Acer (formerly Freeman Fox and Partners)
  • Contractors: Joint venture between Graham Construction and Farrans Construction

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