Original Published on Sep 29, 2022 at 13:49
By Rachel Collier, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Aging infrastructure, environmental changes and increased material costs have caused Island bridge maintenance costs to increase 70 per cent from 2021 to 2022.
“We saw a 30 per cent increase and another 40 per cent increase,” said Darrell Evans, a provincial engineer with the Department of Transportation which oversees bridge maintenance.
A major reason is aging infrastructure.
“The average age of our infrastructure is nearly 50-years old,” he said.
Bridges, culverts, guardrails etc built before 2000 on the Island are designed to last 50 years. In 2000, code was updated and infrastructure with a 75-year design life or more became standard on the Island.
Mr Evans noted more extreme weather patterns have also taken a toll on infrastructure over the years. He points to a major rain event in 2014 that caused a lot of wear as just one example. There were also increases in material costs throughout the pandemic.
The province was on track to spend $5,057,000 by the end of the third quarter of last fiscal year compared to the estimated budget of $2,459,900 expected.
“The initial estimate is really just a number,” Mr Evans said. “Contractors will go in to complete something specific but once they get in and look around, especially with older infrastructure, it often becomes apparent more work needs to be done.”
The province conducts an overall Tender for Standing Offer Contracts for Bridge Maintenance early in any given year (with potential for one year extension).
Contractors bid on tender items which include materials and equipment. Then the department awards contracts based on an evaluation of the competitive bids.
When a contractor completes a particular tender item they are paid according to their contract.
If a contractor is required to complete work that wasn’t listed as a tender item, a project manager will negotiate a deal on-site, it will be done at cost plus, or the contractor will be paid by default according to the negotiated rate tables provided by Highway Maintenance Division, according to the department.
In the last fiscal year five standing offer contractors were paid more than initially tendered: Gaudettes Transit Mix Ltd (Tignish), Noye and Noye Ltd (Tyne Valley), Gillis’s Heavy Equipment (Ellerslie), Maritime Dredging (Charlottetown), MacEwen Construction Ltd (Morell) and Cardigan Excavators Ltd (Cardigan).
In total these contractors bid on $924,328 worth of tendered work but were paid for $2.4 million by the end of the fiscal year, according to documents obtained by The Graphic through the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
It is unclear what non-tendered work was paid in accordance with highway maintenance division rate tables and which were negotiated on-site at cost plus an undefined rate.
It is also unclear precisely what work was completed in relation to the additional non-tendered costs and payments.
The department was on track to spend $26,000 more than estimated on bridge maintenance division salaries and $18,000 more than estimated on travel and training.