Although a very young bridge in terms of heritage bridges, a few years shy of 50 years old, this bridge is nevertheless a noteworthy heritage bridge because it became and for its entire life has held the record of the longest arch span in Canada. As of 2011, the bridge was also the 15th longest arch span in the entire world. Among the bridges in the world with longer spans, only two bridges are older than the Port Mann Bridge, the Sydney Harbor Bridge of Australia and the Bayonne Bridge of the United States. This suggest that perhaps the Port Mann Bridge was the third longest arch span in the world when first built. Because of this significant record-breaking engineering achievement the bridge has heritage value. Further, the bridge is an attractive, graceful bridge design that is not found elsewhere in the Greater Vancouver area.
The Port Mann Bridge carries a very large volume of traffic and it was found that additional lanes were needed. Initially, a preservation solution was developed which would have provided an additional bridge to form a one-way couplet of bridges, thereby preserving the beauty and heritage of the existing bridge. However this idea was scrapped. Why preserve a heritage bridge when instead it can be reduced to scrap metal and deprive the area of an attractive landmark? Therefore, a new cookie-cutter solution of simply spending massive amounts of money to build one entire new bridge and then demolish the heritage bridge was developed and turned into the actual project seen today.
As of 2013, the new bridge is open to traffic, although the old bridge is still standing. The ugly, mundane new bridge has already demonstrated how inferior modern bridges are. The bridge design failed to take into account the concept that Canada has a season called winter, during which it occasionally gets cold. Ice falling off the cables of the bridge has caused major traffic problems on the bridge.
Across North America, landmark sized bridges (with and without heritage value) are being demolished and replaced with cable-stayed bridges. Where once there was a variety of bridge types crossing large bodies of water, whether an arch, suspension, simple truss, or cantilever truss, soon most of these will all be gone and there will be a bunch of cable-stayed bridges everywhere. In this regard, no other metropolitan area in North America is so close to realizing this future as Greater Vancouver. The area appears to have more cable-stayed bridges than any other area in North America.
Initially when one sees a cable-stayed bridge for the first time, or when there are a variety of bridge types in an area with a cable-stayed bridge being one of the group, a cable-stayed bridge might seem eye-catching and attractive. However once a person starts seeing more and more of these bridges, it may become clear that these bridges are not so exciting that our entire world needs to be plastered with them. The reality is that these bridges are visually little more than the typical boring pre-stressed concrete box beam bridge. Its just that they happen to have a big tower with a few cables on them. The only areas in which aesthetics are sometimes considered is in the tower design and perhaps the way the cables attach to the concrete deck.
In the case of the replacement for the Port Mann Bridge, the limited opportunities that cable-stayed bridges offer for aesthetics were completely ignored. The towers are among the most ugly ever encountered. They are little more than straight massive pillars of concrete which have an oversized block shape at the top where the cables attached. The block at the top makes the plain structure look both awkward and top heavy. Good aesthetic design of bridges requires that the bridge look safe to non-engineers, like the general public. Towers that look top heavy fail to do this.
The Port Mann Bridge replacement is not the end of the hoard of cable-stayed bridges being built in the area. Similar to the Port Mann Bridge's fate, the beautiful Pattullo Bridge will also be replaced entirely with a new bridge, instead of creating a one-way couplet of from the heritage bridge be preserved with a new bridge built next to it.
Even the famous landmark heritage bridge, the Lion's Gate Bridge, could not escape the blind eye that Vancouver appears to have for anything with heritage value. While the bridge was rehabilitated, its historic integrity (original design and materials) was decimated when the entire pony stiffening truss was demolished and replaced with a deck truss. It is undesirable to replace entire portions of a heritage bridge during rehabilitation; repair is preferred whenever possible. But the replacement would not have been half as bad if the trusses had been replaced in-kind with new pony trusses. However the pony trusses were replaced with very shallow deck trusses that make it look like the bridge has no stiffening truss at all. This change drastically alters the design of the bridge, it completely changes the visual experience of crossing the bridge, and it also resulted in a significant architectural alteration since it makes the bridge look far more lightweight and flimsy than the original designers intended.
No other major urban area in Canada has a poorer track record for heritage bridge preservation. Despite many large bodies of water to be crossed, the greater Vancouver area will soon have only one or two highway bridges with heritage value aside from the Lions Gate Bridge: the Ironworkers Bridge and the Burrard Bridge. However, even the Burrard Bridge has been threatened with massive alterations to the design which could cripple the historic integrity of the bridge. This would leave the area with the Ironworkers Bridge as the only major highway bridge that has heritage value and also retains even fair historic integrity.
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This historic bridge has been demolished. This map is shown for reference purposes only.
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