The Oosterweel Link: a crucial stamp in closing the Ring

Artist impression Oosterweel

The Antwerp Ring Road, officially known in Belgium as the R1 is to be closed. In the coming years, work will be carried out around ‘t Stad – as the largest city in Flanders is also known – to complete the ring road. This will be achieved through several sub-projects and various phases. Iv has a vital role in designing the Oosterweel junction, which connects the city with the Port of Antwerp and the Linkeroever area.

 

The Ring is one of the most important traffic junctions in Belgium. Due to the increasing number of motorists, traffic around Antwerp is only becoming more congested – few can claim not to have been stuck in a traffic jam there. Client Lantis aims to do something about this. The management company was set up by the Flemish authorities to manage and guide these activities, in addition to a number of other accompanying mobility projects. The Rinkoniên Rechteroever consortium is responsible for the construction. The Belgian companies Artes Group, CIT Blaton and Stadsbader are working with the Dutch construction companies Boskalis and Mobilis on the design and construction.

Oosterweelknoop, Antwerpen

Connecting to tunnels

The Oosterweel junction is a crucial part of the entire connection. It is located at the southernmost tip of the Port of Antwerp and forms the link between the future Scheldt tunnel and the Canal tunnels to the city. The junction is sandwiched between the Amerikadok of the port area to the north and the Scheldt to the south. 
The connection between the two tunnels is unique from a technical and constructive point of view. The Oosterweel junction will form the link between the tunnel sections. The Scheldt and Canal tunnels will be double-deck tunnels, and the junction will connect them.

Complex puzzle focusing on green spaces

The location has created an exciting but complex puzzle for Iv. There is very little space for the complete transformation that awaits the Oosterweel link area. Presently, it is not a (through) junction but a local port connection in the form of a two-lane road (the Oosterweelsteenweg, later the Scheldelaan) that runs alongside the Scheldt. It will be a dynamic traffic junction, recessed into the landscape, with two four-lane carriageways (in both directions), new approaches and exits to the surrounding port areas and a new public park on the closed part of the junction: the Ringpark Noordkasteel.

In short, a lot will change on such a small piece of the total project area. But of all the sub-projects (the R1-Noord, the Scheldt tunnel, the canal tunnels and the Linkeroever/Zwijndrecht), the Oosterweel junction is crucial in ‘closing’ the Ring. The project represents a major infrastructure challenge for Iv in one of the largest road construction projects in Europe.

Iv is working with Sweco and WSP on the design of this monster job. In short, Iv is responsible for two integral work packages involving the design of numerous concrete structures and the associated geotechnical engineering: how to build in and on the ground. Iv is also responsible for integrating all provisions, landscaping, finishing the junction, and preparing the Management and Maintenance Plan as part of asset management.

Bottleneck

What makes the Oosterweel junction so unique, apart from its location, is the versatility of the structures. In addition to the tunnels on both sides, flyovers will be realised, and the crossings will be designed using a so-called ‘pergola structure’. There will also be two bicycle tunnels, and the viaduct will be shaped like a paper clip. This part of the Antwerp Ring is figuratively and literally a knot, comparable to the Terbregseplein (A20/A16). The big difference in the design is that the Oosterweel junction is a bottleneck and, therefore, more challenging in terms of construction and more dynamic with regard to logistical phasing.

“For us, this is a truly integral Iv project”, says Project Manager Léon Tuunter. In addition to Iv-Infra, colleagues from the divisions Iv-Bouw, Iv-Industrie, and Iv-Water are also involved in the project, for example in architectural detailing and electrical grounding advice.

The project is divided into two phases. The first phase, which is now underway, is being carried out in a construction team. This form of collaboration has become increasingly common in recent years. In addition to Iv as the engineering company, the team also includes the client Lantis, the contractor consortium Rinkoniên Rechteroever and design parties Sweco and WSP. Together, we are working on a final design, the final phase of which has already begun.

Coordination of interfaces

In addition to the technically challenging nature of the Oosterweel junction, mutual coordination is a critical point, explains Tuunter: “What is interesting is that the client (ed.) has been involved in the design from the beginning and contributes towards the result. Because of the location, we also have a lot of coordination with other parties regarding the physical interfaces. Communication and project management are crucial to making this project dynamic and interesting in every respect.”

There is more to it than access to the largest city in Flanders and the ring road. Given the location of the Oosterweel junction, the city of Antwerp and the port also play a major role. Logistics and mobility, such as accessibility for cyclists and the creation of green spaces, such as the Ringpark Noordkasteel, need to be considered, but traffic nuisance must also be limited. Or rather, in the philosophy of this project, the Oosterweel link should breathe new life into ‘t Stad. Another ambition is to halve motorist traffic and make cycling and public transport attractive alternatives. This aim includes realising a fast cycle route, which will run through our bicycle tunnels in the Oosterweel junction.

The link between city and industry

As mentioned above, the complexity lies in several aspects. Integration into the area is challenging due to the connection of the two tunnels on either side, as the junction is mostly recessed to limit visual and noise pollution, partly at the request of the city of Antwerp. “This makes this type of contract very interesting for us,” continues Tuunter. “Collaborating with different stakeholders brings all sorts of additional dynamics. The junction forms the link between the city and industry and is also important for the cycle routes that run through it.”

Because the Total Energies refinery is located right next to the project location, cyclists shouldn’t experience any inconvenience. Therefore, due to the limited space, the cycle connection will be primarily built in a tunnel with perpendicular connections. “And all of this has to fit on an area the size of a postage stamp. In a technical sense, this is pretty complex, given the space available. The logistical challenge during construction is also considerable, as the city and port must continue to operate.”

The schedule

Preparatory work for the Oosterweel junction has now commenced, including preparing the land for construction and realising temporary road diversions to keep the port and city easily accessible. The main works will begin in the second half of 2024. Work on this specific part of the project is expected to continue until 2030. After constructing the Oosterweel junction, we will be able to approach the beautiful city of Antwerp with the confidence that we will not encounter any traffic jams.