The Effects of Wind on the Burlington Skyway

By: Leaftech

The Burlington Skyway is a massive, paired bridge structure located in Burlington and Hamilton. "The Skyway" is part of the Queen Elizabeth Way that connects cities in the Niagara Peninsula with Toronto in Ontario, Canada. The two bridges span the distance over Lake Ontario known as the Burlington Bar, located just across from Burlington Bay. The location is extremely busy, as it is a major artery used by thousands of commuters in the Golden Horseshoe region of the province every single day.

The total distance spanned by the bridges is 8400 feet of freestanding structure, supported by 76 different piers rising out of the Lake Ontario Bar. Originally the structure only contained one bridge, but the convenience of the location meant that the bridge was soon bottlenecked and the second bridge was built in 1983 and officially opened in 1985.

Because of the vast dimensions of the bridge, it is susceptible to the effects of the elements, and of these the wind has always played a major factor. Two different aspects of the structure and surrounding landscape cause the variances in the behavior of the wind. The first is the open space surrounding the bridge. Bodies of water as vast as Lake Ontario (and including the flat plains which surround the area) do not provide any windbreak at all. In fact, the wind is able to pick up force as it races unobstructed over the surface of the water. This means that when the wind hits the bridge, it is not slowed by any natural impediments and strikes with full force. The construction of the bridge did not include plans for much in the way of artificial windbreak either.

The second factor is the 118-foot height of the bridges, which contributes significantly to the effect the winds play on the Burlington Skyway. Naturally, the tall structure is going to be subjected to the force of damaging winds at that elevation. These two factors contribute to the effect heavy winds have on the Burlington Skyway.

Unbroken winds mean that extra caution needs to be taken when using the skyway. Of particular note are extended vehicles such as semi trucks and drivers towing recreational vehicles, which are more apt to be affected by the wind.

While heavy winds on the Burlington Skyway are common, it is seldom much of an inconvenience beyond causing drivers to roll up their windows in the chillier temperature. The Skyway has been closed relatively few times during its existence, with one the most recent being during extreme windy conditions in November of 2003. This is certainly a drastic measure, because without this main artery, traffic around the Golden Horseshoe becomes backed up for miles in all directions.

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