On Wednesday, the renovation works on the viaduct in Vilvoorde started. The restoration will take eight years, as announced in March, and the heaviest traffic disruption is expected between 2027 and 2031. The cost is estimated at over 500 million euros.
The Viaduct Zeekanaal Brussel-Schelde, as the bridge is officially called, is one of the busiest traffic points in Western Europe. Every day, an average of up to 200 000 vehicles cross the bridge in two directions, far more than expected at the time it was built.
Due to intensive use, the bridge’s infrastructure had become slightly more fatigued than expected. Therefore the entire structure of the bridge will receive a thorough renovation. Currently, there is no security issue of any kind, but the viaduct must be renewed for future safety to make the bridge suitable for exceptional transport. A fourth lane could be added in due course.
50 km/hour speed limit
In the first phase, nothing will change on the outer beltway. The inner beltway, on the other hand, will get three narrow lanes. The works will be organized in phases to allow as many cars and trucks over the viaduct as possible. During each step, a different part of the viaduct will become a construction zone and will, therefore, be closed to all traffic. On the other parts, the speed will be reduced to 50 km/hour.
Rough estimates assume delays of 30 to 45 minutes, but the nuisance will decrease because drivers will get used to the situation, and more people will telework or look for alternatives.
Although the work will proceed continuously, at night and on weekends in three shifts, the restoration will take eight years. Closing down the viaduct completely would be easier, but the negative consequences for traffic and the economy would be dramatic.
The work will mainly focus on future safety, the strengthening of the infrastructure, and the remediation of old paint layers containing asbestos. Removing the asbestos accounts for about half of the total renovation work.
Several parts of the viaduct will be renewed: the asphalt, the steel support structure on which the concrete slab rests, the asbestos-containing paint on the steel support structure, the crash barriers, and the lighting. There will also be a new concrete slab under the asphalt.
The main goal is to keep out of the surrounding residential areas, and to direct it over the viaduct as much as possible. The entire project cost is estimated at over 500 million euros, far more than calculated at first due to higher prices and high inflation. On top of that, the project appears to be far more complex than expected. In 2019, when an initial study was conducted, the project was still estimated at 100 million euros.
The renovation will also take much more time than initially expected. In 2020, Marijn Struyf, spokesman of the works’ association (De Werkvennootschap), still told press agency Belga “that it would probably take five years” to finish the bridge’s restoration.
The viaduct in Vilvoorde, spanning the Brussels-Scheldt Canal, is probably one of the most famous parts of the beltway around Brussels. The bridge is 1 700 meters long, more than 30 meters high, and rests on 22 rows of pillars.
It was designed in the 1970s to last 100 years. Just under 50 years later, however, the structure, which officially opened in July 1978, is in poor condition.
Belgium’s most famous viaduct already got a crucial makeover in 2017. The existing three lanes got a new surface and were transformed into four lanes in each direction. The speed on the Brussels beltway has been reduced to 100 km/hour since September 2020.