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Burgoyne Bridge Task Force

14 May 2015
By Paul Forsyth, Niagara This Week

Current $91-million price tag called ‘momentous’

NIAGARA — The most expensive project ever undertaken in the history of the Region will now become the focus of a new task force set up to probe how the Burgoyne Bridge replacement’s price tag has soared by tens of millions of dollars over the original estimate.

At a special Thursday night meeting, regional council took the unprecedented step of agreeing to form the task force. The idea was pitched by Regional Chair Alan Caslin, in the wake of a growing number of questions from council members on the project to replace the century-old bridge over Twelve Mile Creek and Highway 406.

A consulting firm originally estimated the bridge project would cost about $54 million, with the federal and provincial governments each agreeing to pay $18 million of that. But the Region got a major case of sticker shock in 2013 when it opened up the bids from about a half dozen companies vying to win the construction work. The lowest bid, by Montreal contracting firm Pomerleau Inc., came in at a whopping $69.9 million.

But the total approved budget, including such things as land acquisition and an $8-million contingency fund for unforeseen costs not uncommon in large, complex projects, now stands at $91 million. The City of St. Catharines is contributing a few million dollars of that.

Niagara Falls Coun. Selina Volpatti has led the charge to question how the project costs have increased so much, peppering regional staff at committee and council meetings with queries.

She called the $91-million price tag “momentous” at the April 30 meeting of regional council.

A staff report in early 2014 warned that any major delays in getting the construction underway could jeopardize the $36 million in funding that the provincial and federal governments have committed to the project.

Volpatti said she now understands that the federal government was willing to extend the funding. “We were misinformed,” she said.

Regional public works commissioner Ron Tripp, who wasn’t at the Region when the early work on the bridge project was underway, said soil condition problems discovered in the bridge valley during geotechnical testing, and a requirement for a longer bridge span by the Ministry of Transportation to accommodate a future, possible widening of Highway 406, pushed up construction costs.

Caslin said the new task force is needed for greater accountability and transparency for property taxpayers, citing in a memo to council the “large increases” in costs during the feasibility and design phase, additional costs as changes are made during construction, and “significant gaps in information being shared” with council.

“There have been a lot of questions,” Caslin told council Thursday night. “We should be…completely informed about this project.

“(It’s) an information gathering exercise.”

Caslin, who will be on the task force along with six other members of council, said the group will approach the project with “no predetermined outcomes.”

Niagara-on-the-Lake Coun. Gary Burroughs questioned if the task force was a new direction for the Region. He wondered if the same should apply to the new Niagara Regional Police headquarters being built in Niagara Falls, or a new $45-million sewage treatment plant planned for his town

“I suppose if any of those projects moved from $50 million to $90 (million), then yes,” said Caslin.

Other members of the task force are Niagara Falls Coun. Bob Gale, St. Catharines Coun. Bruce Timms, St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik, Grimsby Coun. Tony Quirk, Port Colborne Coun. David Barrick, and Volpatti.
Last Modified: May 15, 2015 11:52 AM
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