GNWT confident in new Deh Cho Bridge team

The first phase of construction on the Deh Cho Bridge is now complete, and a new contractor is in place to handle the second, and final, phase, the Government of the Northwest Territories announced March 3.
Kevin McLeod, the director of highways and marine services with the Department of Transportation, said he is confident the new team “will take the Deh Cho Bridge project from (its) current status to full completion in November 2011.”

British Columbia-based Ruskin Construction was introduced as the new general contractor for the project during a technical briefing in Yellowknife. The Department of Transportation will assume responsibility for the management of the project from the Deh Cho Bridge Corporation, and has hired Associated Engineering to handle project control and management. Other members of the new Deh Cho Bridge management team are Levelton Consultants, who will handle the project’s quality assurance; Infinity Engineering, who will act as the engineer of record; Vancouver-based Buckland and Taylor, who are tasked as the project’s erection engineers; Rapid Span, who will supply the bridge’s concrete deck; Quebec-based Structal, who will manufacture the bridge’s steel trusses; and BPTEC-DNW and TYLin International, who will remain as the GNWT’s territorial advisors.
Most of the project’s challenging in-river work is now complete, McLeod explained. The four southern piers were completed in late 2008 and McLeod said he received word Wednesday that the final piece of the four northern piers was officially installed. The temporary work bridge will be removed by the end of the month, with construction on the north abutment and work trestle set to begin in May.
On Monday, the GNWT announced that the legislative assembly will be reconvened March 23 to discuss assuming the assets of the Deh Cho Bridge project, as well as the $165 million debt of the Deh Cho Bridge Corporation.
In a release Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger said that decision will not change the fiscal situation of the NWT or the ability of the GNWT to pay for programs and services.
“The GNWT is already committed to the payments needed to service this debt,” he said. “With over $300 million in unused borrowing room as of April 1, 2010, taking on the $165 million debt associated with the project would not immediately cause the GNWT to exceed its borrowing limit – and the Government is pursuing options to avoid that possibility, including talking to the federal government.”
Miltenberger was unavailable for further comment as of Monday.
Construction on the bridge over the Mackenzie River near Fort Providence began in June 2008. The original design, completed in 2002 by Calgary’s JR Spronken and Associates, did not meet Bridge Code which necessitated a redesign.
“The testing did show there were some issues that needed to be changed,” McLeod stated.
DCBC then hired Infinity Engineering to handle the redesign. Atcon’s bid for phase two “was out of reach,” McLeod explained, and the two sides parted ways earlier this year. DCBC then presented options for the next step to the GNWT, and recommended a negotiated contract with a contractor who was already on site and had knowledge of the project.
“It’s always the case for the GNWT to get best value for public funds,” McLeod said, explaining that the budget for work in phase two – including the fabrication of the deck panels and trusses – is $68.1 million. McLeod also defended the GNWT’s decision to sole-source the contract for phase two, rather than tender it out.
“All (parties) agreed that was the best way. In fact, we made some savings from having a team that was already on site that didn’t have to deploy,” said McLeod. “With all those variables and all those options it made the best sense, from a public point of view, that was the way to go.”
Last month, members of the legislative assembly approved $15 million in additional funding to cover the cost of the redesign, which brought the bridge’s total budget to $181. 4 million.
Andrew Purdy, president of Ruskin Construction, said the balance of the fabrication work will be done off site. The trusses and deck panels will then be transported to the site by train and truck. He said he is confident of the bridge’s final design.
“The design has gone through a very, very rigorous review by some competent and capable people across North America – some of the top-name engineering firms that range from Florida to San Francisco to Vancouver,” Purdy said. “We will not start construction on any phase of the work until our quality control requirements have been met. We have checks in place all the way along.”
Having Associated Engineering in charge of quality control will bring a new level of transparency to the project, McLeod said.
“There will be complete visibility on all aspects of the project,” he said. “We need to know exactly where we are in relation to the end and where we are in relation to budget.”
The future role of the DCBC is currently under review, McLeod admitted, though he said the situation should be clearer within the next three to four weeks.
“We’ve asked them what they want to do, and they’ve asked us, ‘Well, what do you think we should do?’ And we’ve had those kind of discussions,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s what they want. They still have equity. It’s still on their land, it’s still in their backyard. It’s still a mega-project they have influence in.”