Over 900,000 hours of extra parkway work to be created due to girder controversy

The Windsor Star

Dave Battagello

Demolition and replacement of more than 300 girders installed on the Herb Gray Parkway is expected to create up to 900,000 additional man-hours of employment, according to the union leader who represents workers on the project.

“(Removal) is the best possible solution for the community,” said Rob Petroni, business manager for Labourers’ International Union of North America Local 625. “Safety is the most important thing, never mind the man hours.”

Petroni based his estimate on approximately 300 union workers — some of whom will be involved in the demolition and replacement — getting an added 15 months on the project. Parkway contractors believe delays caused by the girder controversy will be less than a year.

The parkway’s contractor is a Spanish-led consortium known as Windsor-Essex Mobility Group which announced Friday more than 500 girders in total fabricated by Spanish company Tierra Armada and partner Freyssinet Group of France will be demolished.

Girders that have already been installed  at four tunnels will begin to be removed shortly, although no timelines have been established, WEMG said.

No one was able to indicate Monday what will be done with the destroyed metal and concrete.

Parkway officials did not answer questions Monday from The Star.

“We anticipate providing updates very soon on a variety of aspects, including key milestones, timelines and technical information,” said Joe Pickerall, spokesman for WEMG.

The controversy over the parkway girders erupted in July when Ontario Transportation Minister Glenn Murray halted further work on several parkway tunnels and overpasses when he learned girders manufactured at Freyssinet-Tierra Armada occurred when the plant was not yet certified by the Canadian Standards Association  as required under legislation.

WEMG for months defended the safety of the girders, but then undertook its own inspection the past couple of weeks by breaking open a dozen of the girders.

What parkway and Transportation Ministry engineers found were twisted strands of steel, concrete only a centimetre or two in thickness where it should have been six centimetres, engineer drawings ignored during production, steel cores (known as cages) out of alignment and other steel parts changed to different materials with no approvals.

Petroni indicated there were 40 LIUNA workers at the plant.

“The thing that angers me most is for anyone who speculates the workers on site were at fault,” he said. “They were not. They don’t know the strength of concrete on the girder, they just poured it. It was an engineering and supervision problem. The workers just did what they were supervised to do.”

Freyssinet has been tossed from the project by WEMG, so those 40 workers are out of jobs.

Petroni said he hoped most can find other work on the parkway or get hired elsewhere as production of new girders ramps up.

The only other supplier for the parkway to date has been local company Prestressed System Inc. It also has girders installed on the project which were called into question and led to the closure of the North Talbot Road bridge.

Girders fabricated by PSI were also criticized in an expert review panel report released Friday. Concerns were raised about  cracks found on the PSI girders at the  North Talbot Road bridge and at one of the parkway’s tunnels.

WEMG has already vowed to demolish and replace the North Talbot bridge at its own expense, even though it opened only a year ago. Other installed PSI girders are also being removed.

But PSI is being trusted by WEMG to continue manufacturing girders for the project.

Production will see 10 per week fabricated at PSI over the next month, which will then ramp up to 25 per week.

A new girder supplier to replace Freyssinet will soon be chosen to avoid putting too much stress on PSI, according to Michael Hatchell, technical director for WEMG.

Among local traffic routes expected to be affected to a great degree is the Huron Church Line Road connection to Highway 3  — just south of the Todd Lane/Cabana Road intersection — which was closed in March. It  will likely stay that way until next summer, according to Michael Hatchell, technical director for WEMG.

The North Talbot Road bridge also will be demolished and rebuilt, but there is not yet a timeline when that might open to traffic, Hatchell said.

Project officials would not detail the cost for each girder, but a former quality assurance manager for Freyssinet estimated girders can range from $50,000 to $100,000 each depending on their size.

MPP Percy Hatfield (NDP — Windsor-Tecumseh) during question period Monday pushed the transportation minister for guarantees the added cost to the project will not be borne by taxpayers.

“Can the minister assure the public today that cost overruns will not have the people of Ontario footing the bill because of this unmitigated fiasco?”  he said.

Murray said any budget overruns beyond the $1.4-billion price tag will be paid by WEMG, according to its contract with the government.

“That is going to cost the taxpayers absolutely nothing,  zero,” he said.

Hatfield also criticized the lack of government oversight on the parkway project and wondered how many other infrastructure projects across Ontario may be suffering.

“There are a number of other projects underway in this province and the frightening thing is the system of oversight is the same on those projects as on the Herb Gray Parkway — meaning there is none,” Hatfield said.

Murray told The Star last week the government relies on the Canadian Standards Association to conduct plant and production inspections.

There are too many projects and too much demand for the government ministries to inspect every company connected to a project, he said.

The fact Freyssinet wasn’t CSA certified during early production and being caught proves the system works, Murray said.

But that’s a costly system, Hatfield said in an interview.

“This is the price of having shoddy work without government supervision,” he said. “Mistakes were made and they are costly mistakes. Someone should be made accountable. There has to be a better way building major infrastructure projects in Ontario. Somebody needs to be on site and ensure the work is done according to specs.”

Click here to watch a video of Hatfield pressing the government for Herb Gray Parkway cost and oversight assurances.

Originally posted by The Windsor Star