The reconfigured joint venture between Toronto-based contractor Aecon and Spanish firm Acciona's Canadian unit is gearing up to break ground in the first quarter on the $1-billion replacement for the Pattullo Bridge outside Vancouver after winning a nod from provincial officials.

Aecon replaced SNC-Lavalin last fall as joint venture contractor after the Montreal-based industry giant’s decision to pull out of the market for fixed-price projects and instead focus on engineering services. It remains on the team in that capacity along with Leonhardt, Andrä und Partner Beratende Ingenieure VBI AG, Hatch Corp., and EXP Services Inc. and Acciona Infrastructure Canada Inc.

The project winners say they plan to start early work in the next few months on the new, four-lane, cable-stayed bridge over the Fraser River. 

The construction contract is worth $730 million, with additional money to be doled out for project management, financing, property acquisition and other project-related expenses.

The Aecon/Acciona joint venture, Fraser Crossing Partners, is expected to have the new bridge open by 2023, with final completion in the fourth quarter of 2025 consisting of removal of the existing span, which is now 82 years old.

"This award adds another signature bridge project to Aecon's strong backlog, further diversifying our presence in Western Canada,” said Jean-Louis Servranckx, a former Vinci executive who became Aecon president and CEO in 2018 after the government halted the Canadian firm's purchase by a Chinese government-owned contractor. "The Pattullo Bridge Replacement is one of the largest infrastructure projects in British Columbia.”

Aecon and Acciona beat out stiff competition from two other joint ventures.

Kiewit Canada Development Corp./T.Y. Lin International and International Bridge Technologies Inc. competed as part of the Fraser Community Connectors, while a third joint venture featured Flatiron, Hochtief, Dragados, Carlson ACS Infrastructure Canada Inc. and COWI North America.

More Lanes?

The new bridge will connect New Westminster and Surrey and will include a safety median barrier, dedicated walking and cycling lanes on both sides of the bridge, and wider lanes to accommodate passenger and commercial traffic.

The Surrey Board of Trade has been pushing to widen the planned bridge to six lanes, arguing the current, four-lane configuration won’t be wide enough amid the explosive growth of metro Vancouver.

“We need to build transportation infrastructure for future population growth” said Anita Huberman, board CEO. “By 2050, an additional 1.3 million people are expected to move into the Metro Vancouver region.”

City officials contend that there is insufficient space on the historic New Westminster area to widen approach roads to accommodate six lanes at present. City engineer Jim Lowrie told the New Westminster Record that added lanes could be considered after the bridge opens.

Also controversial has been the decision by officials in British Columbia to require the winning team to sign a community benefits agreement.

While the agreement aims to boost training through apprenticeships and added hiring of women and Indigenous people, critics say it will also add another $75 million to the project’s pricetag through a bidding process weighed in favor of unionized contractors.

That will increase the project’s cost by 7%, said Marvin Hunt, a Liberal member of the provincial legislature for Surrey-Cloverdale in a press statement.

The “contract for the Pattullo Bridge replacement … not only retains the width of the crossing at four lanes but comes with a 7% increase in cost that will be paid for by B.C. taxpayers,” he said.

But John Horgan, premier of British Columbia, praised the contract award and the community benefits agreement. “The current bridge has needed to be replaced for years, and I'm proud our government is getting it done in a way that benefits the local community with good jobs and training opportunities," he said.

The current bridge has long been vulnerable to ship collision, high winds and a moderate earthquake, with an advanced seismic and wind warning system installation now under way to prevent possible structural impacts. The system would provide alerts of up to one minute prior to damaging ground waves reaching the bridge. 

Another Award to Watch

Meanwhile, another high--profile Vancouver transportation project from which SNC-Lavalin departed last year as a key construction bidder, is set to select a winning team by mid year. 

To design and build the $2.1-billion, 5.7-km-long extension of the Millennium Line with six stations, the B.C. government has two remaining consortia. Construction is set to start by year end for an opening in 2025.

One team is led by Acciona Infrastructure and Ghella Canada, with other members including IBI Group, DIALOG, Mott Macdonald Canada, Parsons Inc., and Madrid-based Ingenieria Especializada de Obra Civil e Industrial.

The other is led by Dragados Canada, Aecon Infrastructure and ACS Infrastructure, with Hatch Ltd., WSP Canada, Dr. G. Sauer & Partners, VIA Architecture, Wood Canada’s Wood Environment & Infrastructure Solutions, and SENER.

Translink is the line operator, but the selected contractor will have to provide about $340 million in interim financing during construction.