A cycle bridge opened by the director of the Tour de France, Nieuwegein is the lucky town to have one. Christian Prudhomme cycled at the head of a peloton of school children, that he had shot away with a ship’s horn, to officially open this bridge over the Amsterdam – Rhine Canal, four days before the real peloton started this year’s Tour de France from nearby Utrecht.
The bridge is part of the cycle network from Nieuwegein and Houten. Neighbouring towns that were divided by a huge barrier for almost 35 years. Cycling from one to the other was only possible via a very busy out-of-the-way bridge. Unattractive because of the noise and the exhaust fumes from the busy motor traffic. The new cycle bridge offers a shorter cycle route away from noise and pollution. It is also part of the recreational long distance routes alongside the 85 kilometre long Nieuwe Hollandse Waterlinie.
The slender steel bridge was constructed in Schiedam (near Rotterdam) and shipped to its location in one piece. The route that had to be taken, over the river Waal and the Amsterdam – Rhine Canal via Wijk bij Duurstede, is about 100 kilometres long. On 2 May 2015 the bridge was placed on the two pillars, 145 metres apart, on both banks of the canal. The crane operators called it a “tricky-hoist-job”. They used three floating cranes on three pontoons. That makes it hard to coordinate every move of every crane and every pontoon. A spokesperson for the crane company explains: “The new bridge is very slender and no less than 220 metres long. That makes the bridge very flexible. During temperature changes you could even see from the chains that the bridge was changing shape. You can imagine that this was very dangerous, because a bridge as flexible as this one moves in every direction.” Just how tricky hoisting a bridge deck can be was shown a few months later in Alphen a/d Rijn where two cranes hoisting a bridge toppled, causing a lot of damage, but luckily no lives were lost.
The route that is now re-established was cut off in 1981, when the Amsterdam – Rhine Canal was diverted around the so-called Plofsluis, which would literally translate to ‘Blast lock”. This unique piece of water management infrastructure was constructed from 1937 on, as part of the water defence line “Nieuwe Hollandse Waterlinie”. The line is now a national monument and it is also on the tentative world heritage list of UNESCO. The Plofsluis (blast lock) is a large concrete box filled with 40,000 tons of debris – pieces of concrete, stone and sand – right above the full width of the canal. It has a relatively weak concrete floor that had explosives already in place to blast that floor away. If detonated, the debris falling into the canal below it would block that canal instantly. This could be necessary in times of war to block the canal for the enemy, or in the case of controlled deliberate flooding, to make sure the floods wouldn’t spread in unwanted directions. A unique type of lock that could only be closed once. That the Plofsluis is still there gives away that it was never used. It has become a national monument to Dutch water engineering, but it was a nuisance to the ships. That is why the canal was diverted around it in 1981. That cut off the land traffic route across the Plofsluis. That the route vanished was not such a problem for motor traffic, because that had the nearby A27 motor way bridge, but for cycling the route was simply gone. In 1981, Dutch society wasn’t ready to spend a lot of money on a cycle bridge.
The new cycle bridge is directly connected to the National monument that the Plofsluis has become. So it was not supposed to draw all the attention. Instead, the new bridge marks the landscape. The bridge was designed by Edwin Megens, architect at StudioSK/Movares and now forms a trio with the bridge over the Lek Canal and the bridge attached to the Plofsluis.
The official name of the bridge became “Nieuwe Heemstederbrug” (the one on the plofsluis is called “Heemstederbrug” hence the addition “Nieuwe” for new). Both named after the mansion that you can see from the bridge on the Houten side called “Heemstede”. A lot of people refer to it as Plofsluisbrug though. And even on the official new name people can’t agree. Google maps calls it “Nieuwe Heemsteedsebrug” as does the municipality on its website, but the bridge itself really bears the name “Nieuwe Heemstederbrug”. (Both versions are linguistically correct.)
The bridge was built by HSM Steel Structures. The steel box girder bridge has a height that varies from 1.3 to 2.7 metres. The full length of the bridge is 220 metres (in the video I accidentally say 210 metres) and it rests on two concrete pillars that are 145 metres apart on both banks of the wide Amsterdam – Rhine Canal. The height of the bridge is about 9 metres above ground level. That is also the height that remains over the water for ships to pass. The steel bridge weighs 714 tons. The usable deck is 4.9 metres wide and it has two lanes for cycling and a designated part for walking. The life expectancy of the bridge is 80 years. On the west side the bridge connects to the Plofsluis at the same height, but on the east side a new access ramp had to be built. To have a comfortable grade the slopes got hairpin bends built on what looks like a dyke, which fits well in the river and canal landscape.
The bridge cost 8.25 million Euro. The costs were shared between the now (almost) dissolved Region of Utrecht, that paid 5 million Euro, the Province of Utrecht that paid 1.35 million and the municipality of Nieuwegein that paid 1.9 million. Nieuwegein also has to pay the maintenance costs which are estimated to be about 20,000 Euro per year for the first 15 years.
The decision to build the bridge was taken in 2012 and three years later it was ready to be used, but there must have been a process prior to this decision. To find out just how long such a decision making process can take, I turned to Herbert Tiemens, who has been professionally involved in cycling in the region of Utrecht for a long time. First he worked for the municipality of Houten, then for the Region of Utrecht and now for the province, all three involved in creating this bridge. Herbert told me: “This process started at least as early as 2001. That year I was involved in an investigation into the feasibility of a cycle bridge to connect Houten and Nieuwegein. At the time the conclusion was that a separate bridge would be too expensive. The best option from a traffic engineering point of view would be a bridge attached to the side of the A27 motorway, if the construction took place when the motorway would be widened. But the motorway has not been widened. In 2007, there was another opportunity when the province had plans to make the monumental Nieuwe Hollandse Waterlinie better accessible. Houten and Nieuwegein were both involved. This time a bridge did turn out to be feasible! Especially when it made use of the height of the existing bridge over the Plofsluis, which is also part of that former defence line. What also helped is that we can now predict the number of expected cyclists much better with our improved traffic models.”
So it took a long time to plan, but it’s there now and people are really enjoying the ride on this bridge and the views from it, as you can see in my videos. I also witnessed placing the bridge, so there’s a video from that event as well.
Video about the new cycle bridge at Nieuwegein
My video of the placing of the cycle bridge.
A ride on the Nieuwe Heemstederbrug from west to east (including the bridge over the Lek Canal and the bridge over the Plofsluis).
Picture archive of the site of the bridge during construction.
A video of the construction, the transport and the placing of this bridge.
A lot of information about the entire project on the website of the municipality of Nieuwegein (in Dutch).