Alarm raised over Ontario’s road projects in wake of parkway’s woes

By Dave Battagello

The organization which represents more than 160 independent laboratory and certification facilities in Ontario said Thursday the province appears to have learned little from the Herb Gray Parkway girder fiasco.

The Canadian Council of Independent Laboratories said dozens of road and bridge projects contracted under public-private partnerships over the last few years have not required government independent testing or inspection.

And that system remains in place, the group said.

“As we’ve seen in the case of the Herb Gray Parkway, the provincial government has no direct way of knowing whether the materials and construction methods used in these projects meet standards,” says Derwyn Reuber, executive director of the Canadian Council of Independent Laboratories (CCIL).

On Windsor’s parkway project, more than 500 girders are being ripped out and scrapped because of poor quality.

Freyssinet and partner Spanish company Tierra Armada set up shop on the city’s west end to supply the parkway with hundreds of girders. But production of the girders and installation were carried out for months before the plant was properly certified by the Canadian Standards Association. The girders were also manufactured without a plant engineer or proper quality assurance manager on site every day.

Government officials have indicated they did not check up on the plant, leaving quality control up to the company, the parkway’s contractor and CSA.

CCIL is urging the provincial government to require all public infrastructure projects to undergo independent testing and inspection, Reuber said. “This is really a bigger issue than the Herb Gray,” he said. “We have no indication that MTO or Infrastructure Ontario have any intentions of changing their current practices. They are issuing contracts without any requirement by the ministries for quality inspections and testing.”

MPP Percy Hatfield (NDP — Windsor-Tecumseh) raised CCIL’s concerns Thursday at Queen’s Park. He asked Transportation Minister Glen Murray why the government has backed off the inspection process on infrastructure projects.

“Let’s get back to the old proven method of requiring independent testing and inspection with the results given not to the contractor, but to the people paying the bill,” Hatfield said during question period. “Public safety may be endangered here.”

Murray responded by noting that about 80 P-3 projects to date have come in under budget.

“All of them have delivered billions of dollars of savings and when there have been errors, the private sector has had to pay for it,” he said.

The Windsor-Essex Mobility Group — contractor for the parkway — has agreed to cover the cost of removal, demolition and reconstruction of the girders on the project. WEMG is financially responsible for repairs for the new highway’s first 30 years.

In an email statement to The Star, Murray added that he met with CCIL in September and indicated the ministry continues to work with the group.

“I want to be clear that the majority of our contracts continue to utilize independent testing – the safety or durability of our highways and bridges is always our primary consideration,” he said.

MTO has a good working relationship with the CCIL, added ministry spokesman Bob Nichols. “However, we don’t share its concerns over independent testing,” he said.

MTO currently monitors “performance indicators” during a warranty period, such as cracking in asphalt, ride quality and smoothness, to ensure performance targets are met.

“Performance targets ensure appropriate performance over the lifecycle of the asset and are based on accepted North American standards for safety and durability,” Nichols said.

“When a contractor’s work does not meet performance requirements, the contractor must carry out specified improvements at his cost.”

For critical items such as bridges, MTO hires independent testing companies to ensure safety and durability, he said.

“The majority of our work continues to be delivered using conventional methods which include independent testing,” Nichols said.

Reuber disagreed, saying contractors are left on their own.

“It’s up to them how much inspection services they want to use,” he said. “If deficiencies are discovered, it’s up to the contractor to decide what he will and won’t do.

“The only reason I can see they are not doing it is it transfers all risk from the ministry to the contractor. I believe they came to a decision they did not want to be involved in any way. But as we see with Herb Gray, when things get really bad they still have to deal with the problems.”

Originally posted in the Windsor Star