WINDSOR, Ont. –It’s full speed ahead as the Ontario government prepares in earnest for constructing the Windsor-Essex Parkway, “the most significant highway investment” in Ontario history.
The province last month released its short list of firms that were selected from a request for qualifications issued in June. All are heavy hitters in the international construction business with arm-long resumes detailing their involvement in some of the world’s most notable past and current highway projects.
The Rose City Parkway Group, consisting of such firms as Macquarie Capital Group Limited, MMM Group and AECOM Canada Ltd., has been involved in building British Columbia’s Sea-to-Sky Highway, Quebec’s Autoroute 25 extension, and England’s M6. Windsor Transportation Partners, which includes Germany’s Bilfinger Berger Project Investments, Carillion Canada Inc. and PCL, is working on Alberta’s Northeast Stoney Trail Project and the E 18 in Grimstad, Norway. Meanwhile members of the Windsor Essex Mobility Group which includes Acciona, S.A., Flour Canada and Dillon Consulting “built the Chilean highway system,” Quebec’s A 30, and the Capital Beltway around Washington D.C., said Infrastructure Canada spokeswoman Paulette den Elzen.
Two other consortiums SNC Lavalin Inc. and WEP Development Partners, are being held “in reserve” should a shortlisted bidder be unable to proceed.
In December, the province will issue Request for Proposals, which will allow the shortlisted groups to bid on detailed highway designs for the six-lane, sunken 11-km stretch replacing the city’s traffic-clogged Huron Church Rd.
Den Elzen said the RFQ scored firms based “especially in building roads that would be suitable for the Windsor area of Ontario and to suit the needs of trucking traffic.”
The below grade highway will be “unprecedented” in its integration into the environment around it, with long stretches of parkland above the 11 tunnels totalling 1.8 km, reducing pollution, traffic noise and keeping city neighbourhoods together.
“Trucks will be hidden from the view of homeowners, noise levels will be reduced, and overall air quality conditions will improve for Windsor-Essex residents,” said the agency charged with undertaking the private-public partnership. “Trucks will no longer have to brake, idle or accelerate on their way to the border, thereby reducing diesel emissions and improving community air quality.”
The freeway will also have four above ground service lanes. It will veer off westward from the current border route just after vehicles leave Hwy. 401. Local traffic would still be able to leave the freeway. There will be no tolls for the new route.
While Ontario is stepping up its activity to build the road there is little activity on the American side of the border for either funding the bridge or an Interstate highway link.
But that didn’t dissuade Infrastructure Ontario president David Livingstone. “Not everything has to happen at the same time,” he said at a press conference. “We believe the bridge and US work will go ahead too, but this road is going ahead.”
The federal government had earlier committed its share of funding for the bridge and a massive Customs plaza.
Pre-construction work, such as allowing crews to mark utility lines as well as demolishing buildings along the route, should begin this fall.
But den Elzen said it will take seven months, or until next July, before the three proponents submit final proposals. Infrastructure Ontario will take another three months to evaluate them and award the contract. Therefore, she said, construction of the parkway, which is estimated to create 12,000 project-related jobs, is not likely until fall 2010.
The road has often been cited as costing $1.6 billion but Infrastructure Ontario wouldn’t commit to a figure.
“The project scope is still being defined in terms of what the bidder will be bidding on,” den Elzen said. “And until we have a bid and agreement we won’t know what the project cost is.”
Windsor City Council has objected to the parkway for not have enough tunnelling. Its alternative GreenLink proposal would provide more green space. Livingstone said the city is welcome to provide further input but there will not be “huge deviations” from the plan.
Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis says he is personally involved in discussions with the province. “From our perspective we know that there’s a long way to go before we have a shovel in the ground and it’s our hope that we can try to arrive at a solution well before that.”
Meanwhile the company that runs the existing Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit remains tireless in its campaign to fend off a public bridge. It has launched a billboard campaign saying it can build a new six-lane span without taxpayer money.
Bridge spokesman Phil Frame said that it makes more sense for his company to be given the go-ahead because of the poor economy on both sides of the border. “The state of our economy is such right now that both countries, cities, could use some jobs.” •