Oosterweel works on Canal tunnels started

On Monday 13 May, Jan De Nul, as part of TM ROCO, started the construction of the Canal Tunnels. These tunnels run under the Albert Canal and connect the future Oosterweel junction with the Ring Road (R1). Together with the junction and the Scheldt Tunnel, the Canal Tunnels form the missing link that will complete the Antwerp Ring. Thanks to a closed Ring Road, we ensure a robust traffic system that will make mobility in the Antwerp region smoother in the future.

Preparatory dredging works in the Albert Canal started at the end of April, after which main works began on 13 May with the construction of a working island.  

The Canal Tunnels consist of four tubes, stacked in pairs. They start in the Amerika dock and run under the Albert Canal. Near Noorderlaan they split up: the lower tubes connect to the Antwerp Ring towards the Netherlands (A12 and E19), while the upper tubes will take you to and from Sportpaleis and E313. The first sections of the Canal Tunnels will be ready by the end of 2028.   

Installation of sheet piling in Albert Canal from the end of May

 Unlike the Scheldt Tunnel, for which the tunnel elements are built in a construction dock in Zeebrugge, the elements for the Canal Tunnels are made on site. To this end, we will vibrate steel sheet pile walls into the bottom of the Albert Canal from the end of May.  

In preparation for the construction of the Canal Tunnels, we carried out extensive tests to find out which technique would enable us to drive the sheet piles into the ground the fastest and with the least noise pollution.  We eventually opted for a method involving more vibratory driving and as little driving as possible. However, to get the sheet piles to the right depth, it may be necessary to pile after. This will cause some noise pollution to the surrounding area. 

Creating the sheet piling along the entire stretch from the Samga Dock to the Asia Dock will take about a year. From the end of 2024, we will start pumping out the water between the sheet piling and filling the construction pit with sand. This will create a dry construction pit in which we can build the Canal Tunnels. 

Smooth and safe traffic, also on the water

The construction of the tunnels reduces the width of the Albert Canal for shipping traffic in some places. However, the canal is a heavily used waterway, which should also play an important role in transporting goods by water, rather than by road, during the Oosterweel works. That is why Oosterweel builder Lantis and the waterway managers Port of Antwerp-Bruges and De Vlaamse Waterweg have worked out a package of measures over the past few years to ensure that shipping traffic can continue to sail optimally and safely even during the works.  

For example, vessel traffic control was introduced near the works. Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) is already active in other sectors of the port, but since Monday 13 May it has been extended to the Weel sector where the Oosterweel works are taking place. The system monitors vessel traffic and provides vessels with information and advice on risks, weather conditions and navigation. Besides the expansion of the VTS and the construction of a digital passage planner, mobile radar units were also developed, cameras installed, and signage boards installed. Finally, additional VTS operators and passage planners were hired to support the expansion. They will guide ships in their passage past the wharf day and night. 

Not only shipping, but also worker safety is central to Oosterweel's vision. That is why we built an approach ramp in the America Dock to protect both the shipyard and later the Canal Tunnels and ships in case of possible collision. Because the top of the tunnels will be slightly higher than the bottom of the America Dock, there is a potential risk of collision if ships go off course. Although the probability of such an incident is very low thanks to vessel guidance and signage along the fairway, the potential consequences of a collision are significant. For this reason, the approach berm, a first in Belgium, is essential to protect both workers and the Canal tunnels and ships from damage. 

The approach ramp is just one example of how the TM ROCO contractor consortium has thoroughly prepared for the construction of the Canal Tunnels in recent years. Both in the office and in the field, a lot of preparatory work has been done. In 2022, for instance, we moved a lot of cables, pipes and sewers. In this way, we are clearing the ground of obstacles before the main works start. A concrete plant is under construction at Straatsburg Dock-Noordkaai. This plant will produce concrete after the summer for both the works on the R1 and the Canal Tunnels. 

Flemish Minister for Mobility and Public Works: "With the construction of the Canal Tunnels, another new part of Oosterweel is starting and we are taking concrete steps to complete the Antwerp Ring Road. This is crucial for promoting smooth and safe traffic. As part of the modal shift from road to water, Lantis has worked out various measures together with De Vlaamse Waterweg nv so that shipping traffic can continue to operate optimally and safely even during the works. Each new step of the Oosterweel works brings us closer to a qualitative connection that will greatly improve the mobility of Antwerp, a fundamental economic link in Flanders.

Jeroen Philtjens, Project Director TM ROCO: "Building the stacked Canal Tunnels under the city is an immense, technical challenge for ROCO. We are eagerly looking forward to completing this next step in the realisation of the construction site of the century. Together with builder Lantis, the yard's neighbours and all our partners, we are taking on this challenge. Our joint efforts are aimed at improving mobility for the future and a safe and liveable construction period."  

Bart Van Camp, Director Environment Lantis: "With the start of the works on the Canal Tunnels, a new chapter begins in our efforts to improve mobility. For Lantis, cooperation with the environment and stakeholders is essential. Not least for the important shipping traffic that will pass through our site. Only by investing in strong cooperation can we bring the Oosterweel project, as well as the 2017 Future Alliance, to a successful conclusion."

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