‘Site of the century’: Crews square up to Antwerp’s tunnel-under-a-canal

Image shows the northern arc of Antwerp’s R1 ring road, to be created by the canal tunnels in red, and the Scheldt River tunnel on the left (Image courtesy of Lantis)
A joint venture of contractors last week started the complex job of building a double-deck road tunnel under the Albert Canal in Antwerp, Belgium.

It will consist of a pair of double concrete tubes stacked on top of each other, running for 2.5km under the canal’s length.

It and the nearby Scheldt River tunnel, also under construction, are needed to complete the northern arc of Antwerp’s R1 ring road.

The first sections of the tunnel are expected to be done by the end of 2028, said Belgian contractor Besix, a member of the TM Roco JV building it.

‘Construction site of the century’

Besix project director Jeroen Philtjens called the project “an immense technical challenge” and “the construction site of the century” for Belgium.

How the tunnel will look (Lantis)

The canal tunnel consists of four tubes, stacked in pairs, allowing traffic to split four ways at the ends.

Unlike for the Scheldt Tunnel, which is using prefabricated concrete tubes, the canal tunnel will be built on site.

TM Roco will create a 2.5km-long dry stretch by vibrating steel sheet piles to form a wall down one side of the canal, starting at the end of this month.

From the end of 2024, the water in the sheet-piled area will be pumped out to make a dry construction pit.

Then, crews will dig down some 20m to start building the tubes from the bottom up.

The tunnel will run 2.5km under Antwerp’s Albert Canal (Courtesy of Besix)

Ships can still use the canal during construction, though in a narrower passage.

Ship-catching ramp

To stop ships hitting the construction site, a ship-catching ramp has been built in front of it that will gradually bring vessels to a halt.

It’s a first for this technique in Belgium.

Besix is joined in the joint venture by companies Cordeel, Deme, Jan De Nul, Denys, Franki Construct, Van Laere, and Willemen Infra.

The client is Flemish state transport agency, Lantis.

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