Champlain Bridge: Federal hesitation cost $ 500 million

Politics

The federal government argues that the new Champlain Bridge will be ready on time and will respect the allocated budget, no matter what the Auditor General says.

In a report released Tuesday, Ferguson estimates that the bridge will cost more than expected and will not be completed in time. He points to the planning and deficient risk management of the Ministry of Infrastructure which should have decided to replace the structure of the years before. Its analysis extends from 1999 to 2017.

The deadline for the opening of the bridge, which has already been postponed to 21 December 2018, seems ambitious even with the addition of new resources or the use of new construction methods to accelerate the completion of the project.

“We are following this situation very closely,” said Transportation Minister Marc Garneau. We meet regularly with Signature on the St. Lawrence, the proponent, and we will meet our schedule of December 21, 2018. “

The Trudeau government blames its predecessor for delaying the construction of the bridge. Conservative MP Gerard Deltell stood up for the Harper government.

“We also have to understand that it was not an easy issue because we were in a new country and each bridge represents a challenge in itself,” he admitted.

The initial budget for the new bridge was $ 4.2 billion, but the project has already experienced a cost overrun of $ 235 million for accelerating measures and compensation for the Signature Group on the St. Lawrence.

Delays in the transportation of parts, labor disputes and a strike delayed the work, says the Auditor General. Significant changes to the project along the way cast doubt on the group’s ability to complete construction on time.

Any additional delay would have significant repercussions for the metropolitan area of ​​Montreal. The current Champlain Bridge plays an important economic role. The trade it contributes to is $ 20 billion a year.

$ 500 million wasted

The federal government has been slow to release funds for the construction of the new bridge announced in 2011.

“We found that the decision to replace the Champlain Bridge should have been made years earlier,” said Ferguson. The delay cost taxpayers over half a billion dollars. “

This amount includes $ 306 million that was used to carry out major repairs on the current Champlain Bridge until the new structure is ready. It also includes compensation of $ 235 million for the Signature Group on the St. Lawrence.

This is without counting the economic cost of road congestion due to lane closures and load restrictions for trucks.

The Auditor General reports that the choice to conduct this project with a public-private partnership (PPP) in order to generate savings has been made without analysis, while the PPP may be “more expensive than the traditional model”. He pointed out that the analysis was carried out unnecessarily two years later.

The construction of the new Champlain Bridge is an “unprecedented” project that involves significant risks and that needed to be expedited as necessary. “The new Champlain Bridge project was one of the few projects of such complexity and size ever managed by the federal government as part of a public-private partnership,” he writes.

This is proof, according to the New Democratic Party, that P3s are not the right vehicle for infrastructure projects. “The experience of the Champlain Bridge tells us, the auditor was clear, collectively, it does not serve us,” said MP Brigitte Sansoucy.

The Auditor General also notes that the Department of Infrastructure has not received any assurance that the new Champlain Bridge, which has a projected life of 125 years, will remain in operation for such a long time. The current Champlain Bridge, opened to traffic in 1962, has deteriorated rapidly due to the corrosion caused by salt and the increase in truck traffic.

Ferguson makes five recommendations, including analyzing the cost of the infrastructure lifecycle and better evaluating the PPP model before choosing it. The Ministry of Infrastructure accepts all recommendations.

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