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Watchdog sounds alarm over city's often-repaired infrastructure

String of construction woes getting 'frustrating': Taxpayers federation

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/11/2018 (564 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

You could call it a bridge over troubled engineering.

For the second time in four years — and little more than a decade after the south Perimeter bridge underwent major renovations and rebuilding — the province has been forced to close a lane this week after cracks were spotted in the concrete.

The westbound curb lane of the Red River Bridge along the South Perimeter is closed for repairs.


The westbound curb lane of the Red River Bridge along the South Perimeter is closed for repairs.

And it's also the most recent of a spate of construction problems in recent years, including the Winnipeg Police Service headquarters and Investors Group Field, which have resulted in millions of dollars lost, costly repairs made and lawsuits launched.

"It is getting frustrating, for sure," Todd MacKay, prairie director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said Thursday.

"Sometimes there are mistakes any time you do construction, whether it is bathroom renovations or larger projects, but this is getting a bit routine in Winnipeg and Manitoba. We've got to get a handle on it. Is it just a weird coincidence or do governments need to do a better job in mitigating risk?"

While Ruth Eden, the province's acting assistant deputy minister of Manitoba Infrastructure, said the cracks on the bridge "doesn't necessarily mean we need a repair," she said similar cracking nearby in the same lane in 2014 required repairs.

"We have staff who drive around on the road checking," Eden said. "One saw something they hadn't seen before. We are always checking. We are always vigilant."

Eden said department staff will determine the cause of the problem.

The province previously threatened legal action against AECOM Group — the engineering firm that bought Canadian-based UMA Group — which did the original engineering work on the bridge before the major renovation work.

In 2009, assistant deputy minister Lance Vigfusson said the province was preparing a lawsuit seeking at least $6 million in extra costs because of construction problems. The project was originally budgeted to cost $12 million.

"We believe there were some errors and oversights in the design of the structure," Vigfusson said at the time.


Many motorists remember clearly the years-long traffic delays and logjams caused by the bridge reconstruction and subsequent repairs.

The repairs on the bridge started in 2006 and were supposed to be completed two years later. But, even before the work could be done, cracking was spotted on the bridge's deck. When examined further, it was determined the concrete had not been properly reinforced.

That led to an extra year of traffic woes and single-lane travel in each direction.

Eden said the matter was settled out of court and details of the settlement are confidential.

The Perimeter Highway bridge across the Red River and roadway at Pembina Highway was originally constructed in 1958, at a cost of $1.06 million.

According to newspaper articles at the time, the project — a four-lane, 258-metre, reinforced concrete-and-steel girder span — was one of 17 bridges budgeted by the province to cost $5.5 million in total.

Meanwhile, the city has filed a lawsuit over problems in the construction of the Winnipeg Police Service headquarters, which was completed $85 million over budget. The problems include deteriorating and falling concrete on one level, improperly installed waterproofing membranes, structural and loading deficiencies with the evidence control unit floor and incomplete asbestos abatement.

IGF owner Triple B Stadium, a consortium that includes representatives from the province, city, University of Manitoba and the Winnipeg Football Club launched a lawsuit alleging faulty design and construction of the $210-million facility seeking reimbursement of repair costs from the architect and builder.

The city's $300-million water treatment plant began began operating in 2009, but just three years later the roof was leaking, equipment had exploded and seized up, and parts of the facility had to be shut down. The city was planning to sue several contractors, but the statement of claim was dismissed when a lawyer at city hall missed the filing deadline; he was fired.

The city filed a $2.2-million lawsuit after an earth wall designed to support the Sturgeon Creek bridge and road surface on the riverbank collapsed when a watermain ruptured.

MacKay said he hopes the province figures out what is happening to the bridge.

"You just can't shrug," he said. "There has to be an explanation to taxpayers," he said.


Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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Updated on Friday, November 16, 2018 at 2:36 PM CST: fixes typo

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