Tale of Two Bridges: Canada Mega-Spans Face New Delays
Major delays in a pair of multibillion-dollar bridge proposals have handed Canada’s Trudeau government a setback as it pushes to get marquee infrastructure projects moving to boost the economy.
In Vancouver, British Columbia, newly elected provincial officials have canceled a pending procurement for the $2.8-billion, 10-lane George Massey bridge to replace an aging 1950s-era tunnel under the Fraser River. The winner had been set to be announced in October. Meanwhile, initial hopes that a new $3-billion bridge across the Ontario border to Detroit would open in 2020 have long since been dashed. The four-to-five year construction process is not expected to start until 2018, with the deadline for detailed bid submissions recently pushed back by four months.
The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, which is overseeing the new Gordie Howe bridge project, also is disputing media reports in Detroit and Windsor, Ont., that CEO Michael Cautillo was told by the agency board that he is no longer in charge.The authority released a statement calling the reports “inaccurate,” and that Cautillo remains CEO but has been on leave “related to personal matters” since Aug. 24. A spokesman for Canada’s Ministry of Infrastructure and Communities declined comment on Cautillo’s status but said the Trudeau and Trump governments remain “firmly committed” to a modern 1.5-mile span linking Canada and the U.S. “at the busiest entry point for trade and commerce.”
Three consortiums of bidders competing to build the Gordie Howe project were set to submit detailed bids in November. Now, the groups—led by SNC-Lavalin, ACS Infrastructure Canada and Toronto contractor Ellis Don—must wait until next year to do so, with contractor selection not expected until September 2018.
In a twist, Canadian officials gave permits to the Maroun family—private owners of a rival, 86-year-old span—to build a new, six-lane bridge over the Detroit River, connecting Windsor and Detroit. In return, the family must tear down the old Ambassador Bridge when the new span is up. The Marouns have battled in court to stop the Gordie Howe project, although their legal fight now appears to be running out of steam. A federal appeals court has raised questions about the Maroun lawsuit challenging Gordie Howe, hinting strongly that the case belongs in state rather than federal court.
Plans to replace Vancouver’s Massey tunnel halted when British Columbia’s new New Democratic Party (NDP) government announced a technical review of various transportation options. Built in 1959, the tunnel has been deemed unsafe in a seismic event and a cause of traffic gridlock, with just four lanes.
The review will look at not just the original planned 10-lane bridge but also other options, such as a smaller bridge or tunnel, said Leanne Flood, public affairs officer for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. “The review will focus on what level of improvement is needed in the context of regional and provincial planning, growth and vision,” she said. Two of three short-listed bidders for the 10-lane bridge project will be paid up to $2 million for expenses to date, Flood stated, but she declined to confirm which teams—led by Spain-based ACS, Fluor Corp. and Kiewit—would be compensated. Industry observers say the paymens would not cover firms’ proposal investment.
The province itself has spent $54 million on the bridge project, completing an environmental review this year. In a recent report, bond ratings agency DBRS says the NDP government’s decision to step back from the bridge plan, which called for tolls, “adds further uncertainty” to the province’s debt outlook. Any new project “appears likely to be taxpayer-supported,” DBRS said. The NDP government removed tolls on two Vancouver-region bridges on Sept. 1, and is reportedly reviewing costs of one—the Port Mann span, which was completed in 2012 under the former Liberal government. But Flood said there was also insufficient local support for the proposed Massey bridge among Vancouver-area mayors. Opponents said it was too large and would increase traffic, say media reports.