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No Charges Over Ontario Bridge Controversy

Thursday, September 13, 2018

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The investigation of an Ontario bridge replacement that ballooned to nearly twice its original projected cost has wrapped up with no indication of criminal wrongdoing.

The Burgoyne Bridge replacement, first proposed in 2010 at an estimated cost of $56 million, was substantially completed in 2017, but the price tag on the massive project swelled to $100 million by the time all was said and done. Local officials in St. Catharines, the city just northwest of Niagara Falls where the bridge lies, began calling for an investigation into the ballooning costs in 2016, and in June of that year hired an outside firm to conduct an audit of the project.

Burgoyne Bridge
Sean_Marshall, CC BY-NC 2.0, via Flickr

The Burgoyne Bridge replacement garnered awards for its design and construction: The 410-foot arch composed of tubular steel supports decks on either side via box girders. 

While the cost of the bridge was estimated at just under $60 million in 2012 when funds were allocated by the federal and local governments, it had risen to more than $90 million by the time contracts were awarded in 2014.

The possibility of criminal charges was raised when the independent audit turned up months of missing emails related to the project. Corrupted and missing emails from 2011 and 2012, a crucial period in the design of the steel tied-arch bridge, led some to question whether wrongdoing was being covered up.

The cost of the bridge became a political lightning rod, with a task force set up by the Niagara Regional Council investigating the role of city officials, and later regional officials, in the project and its associated cost overruns. (Some dubbed it the "Lotta-Coin Bridge.")

In April 2017, the Region appealed to the Canadian federal government for additional funds to help alleviate the $40 million in overruns; the feds had initially contributed about a third of the $59.5 million cost that was estimated when the Region and the City of St. Catharines approached the government about the project. (Ontario picked up a third of the bill as well, and the Niagara Region and St. Catharine’s together provided the final third.)

At that time, the federal government refused to contribute additional funds, noting that cost overruns were beyond the scope of its responsibility. The chairman of the Regional Council noted that the original funding request was made before many of the design and engineering studies could be completed, and that if the city and region had waited, a more complete picture of the cost of the job would have emerged before the parties committed funding.

A city official told the Niagara Falls Review at the time that federal funds had been available for a limited time, meant for shovel-ready projects, as an economic stimulus.

No Criminal Wrongdoing

The conclusion of the criminal investigation, which was undertaken by the Ontario Provincial Police and lasted 21 months, was announced Monday (Sept. 10).

“There is no evidence of criminal wrongdoing with respect to the project, or any of the other matters brought forward in the Deloitte Report or by Regional Councilors pertaining to procurement of conflicts of interest within the Niagara Region,” a press release said.

Burgoyne Bridge
Michael Pardo, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The 1,090-foot structure consists of seven spans and was engineered by Harbourside Engineering Consultants and Parsons.

The “Deloitte Report” is the independent audit that was called for in 2016; in spring 2017, some councilors called for a separate investigation into the audit itself, essentially an investigation into the investigation.

The Project

The Burgoyne Bridge replacement garnered awards for its design and construction: The 410-foot arch composed of tubular steel supports decks on either side via box girders. The 1,090-foot structure consists of seven spans and was engineered by Harbourside Engineering Consultants and Parsons with architect DTAH. Pomerleau Construction served as lead contractor, with Walters Inc. fabricating steel components and VSL International providing cables.

In 2017 it was honored by the Quebec Region of the Canadian Institute of Steel Construction with two awards, taking the Outside of Quebec Bridge Projects and Jury Favourite Projects categories in the organization’s Design Awards for Excellence in Steel Construction awards. The project also received the 2017 Award of Excellence from Canadian Consulting Engineers

   

Tagged categories: Bridges; Funding; Government; Project Management

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