February 1, 2015 by Jim Barnes
Even among huge highway developments, Phase 1 of the plan to extend Ontario Hwy 407 eastwards is remarkable. The massive design/build/finance/maintain public-private partnership project near Toronto is a showcase for leadership in construction, planning and the environment. It’s also a project that has faced its challenges.
Studies on the extension began in 2005. In May, 2012, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure Ontario awarded the billion-dollar DBFM contract to the 407 East Development Group (407 EDG), with a deadline in 2015.
There are two equal equity partners in 407 EDG: Cintra Infraestructuras S.A. and SNC-Lavalin Inc., through its SNC-Lavalin Capital division. The partnership is responsible for financing and project direction.
The design-build team contracted by 407 EDG is the 407 East Construction General Partnership. 407 ECGP has two equal equity partners, SNC-Lavalin Inc. (through its SNC-Lavalin Construction Div.) and Ferrovial Agroman S.A., each with a 50 per cent share. This group is responsible for design engineering, project management, procurement and construction. The design was developed by Jansen & Spaans Engineering Inc. and AIA Engineers Ltd.
During the 30-year operational term of the contract, operations, maintenance and rehabilitation services will be provided by Cintra and SNC-Lavalin Operation & Maintenance.
Hwy 407 will be a publicly owned, tolled highway. The provincial government will own the facility and control tolling rates and revenue. “There was a desire by the province to retain the toll revenue from these new facilities. That is a distinction from the existing 407 ETR and that was a decision made by the provinceof Ontario prior to tendering or awarding this contract,” says Jeff Stapleton, project manager, Infrastructure Ontario.
It’s a matter of balancing risk, says Steven Hankins, chief executive officer, 407 EDG. “They transferred the project risk to the private side in terms of putting the project on the ground and arranging the financing—doing the design, construction, operations and maintenance.” The revenue risk, on the other hand, has been assumed by the Ontario government.
It’s a massive project that includes:
There will be six lanes on Highway 407 from Brock Rd. to the West Durham Link; four lanes from West Durham Link to Harmony Rd., and four lanes on West Durham Link. That totals some 148 new lane-km., with up to 10 interchanges including two highway-to-highway interchanges, 31 major water-crossing structures and 16 road crossings.
The Phase 1 interchanges included in the project are:
The scope is massive, but the technical details such as paving design are spelled out according to established provincial regulations. Qualitas, a subsidiary of SNC-Lavalin, is the pavement designer. There was nothing unusual about the paving design—it was pretty much a straight-up Superpave mix, meeting standard provincial paving requirements, says Miguel Angel Alonso, construction manager, 407ECGP.
It’s a huge job and the sheer quantity of fill needed for it is a challenge, notes Alonso. Fortunately, the soil in the area is very suitable for this kind of work. “In general, we are able to use 75 to 80 per cent of the soils in the fill,” he says.
While reusing the local soil helps, “The quantities for the granular and asphalt are huge. We have to move these quantities over a very short time,” he adds. Most of the aggregate comes from quarries within 80 km of the jobsite, but the roadbuilders have to manage a fleet of more than 100 large trucks, a logistical challenge in itself.
Another challenge comes from the need to minimize impacts on highway traffic.
“There is a lot of traffic in this area, and every single movement—every single activity—can affect the traffic. We are very concerned about that,” says Alonso.”As part of the agreement, we cannot close a single lane of the highway during the day. We only have night-time closures, and this also applies to roads that connect with the highway.”
A number of traffic studies were done to plan the detours and assess the effects of redistributing the traffic on the area roadways. The roadbuilders reached out to the municipalities affected—Pickering, Whitby, Oshawa and the region of Durham—and worked with them on scheduling to minimize traffic problems. For example, they made sure that two closures would not occur next to each other at the same time, says Hankins.
“We also have to deal with the railways—and that involves more restrictions than the roads,” Alonso adds. “It’s a very challenging part of the project.”
The weather has been another challenge. It has been a harsh winter in the area, and that limits the work that can be done, according to Alonso. They will work on laying the base down until the weather gets a little warmer and then they’ll finish up with the asphalt paving.
“Right now, we’re cutting and hauling the material for disposal when we don’t need the dirt to balance the cut-and-fill,” says Alonso. Cut-and-fill won’t be done until spring at the earliest, due to compaction requirements.
In winter, they are mainly doing cut-to-waste. They can continue work on the substructures but they can’t pour concrete for the decks or superstructure. They are able to place foundation and substructure concrete, erect girders and set precast deck panels. Most of the work needed to allow for placement of deck concrete will follow in the spring, says Alonso.
They have to consider not only the cold but the thaw. “We have a restriction from March until May, when most of the roads have load restrictions. We won’t be able to haul full loads,” he adds.
During the thaw, the restriction will affect hauling concrete, rebar, granular and precast pieces and placing cranes. “We have to concentrate 80 per cent of the activity in summer,” says Alonso.
But summer, too, can pose problems. Last summer was marked by a series of hard rains that impacted schedules.
Hankins has considerable experience working in the southern U.S.A. “In Texas, you can work 12 months a year, maintaining high degrees of productivity. That was eye-opening for me, to see the winter side of things and how that shortens your season and makes it more challenging,” he says.
Nevertheless, says Gabriel Medel-Carratala, construction manager & deputy D&B director,
407 ECGP, “We have achieved all of our critical milestones.”
Safety is fundamental to this job. “We have our own health and safety program. We oblige all the contractors to follow it. Training is a key component and we have training rooms. Everybody who comes to the site has to take training before they are admitted to the project,” says Alonso. It’s a system they’ve used on other projects, and they did not have to modify it significantly in order to use it successfully in the Ontario jurisdiction. Several 407 ECGP safety managers and inspectors are involved. “All workers need to be trained, as required by the H&S rules, for their position in the project. Every worker is trained about the special risks in this kind of project,” says Medel-Carratala.
Working with the community was another important initiative. Public consultation through a series of meetings at Public Infor-mation Centres helped ensure community buy-in. Those meetings addressed the requirements of the Community Value Plan (CVP), developed by MTO as part of the Environmental Assessment pro-cess. The plan focused on a range of features of historical, social and natural environmental interest that reflect the values and inter-ests of communities affected by the project and other stakehold-ers, including First Nations communities. The plan includes elements like vegetation screening, general restoration/enhancement of natural areas, gateway features at the entrance to local communities, commemoration of local and aboriginal heritage and the establishment of special commemora-tive sites, trails and wildlife crossings.
“These kinds of projects are not that different. You always have a lot of stakeholders on a project this big—everyone from your client to your contractors to your municipalities,” says Hankins. “Every project on this scale brings a lot of challenges,” he adds. “It’s a team effort. You have to coordinate your actions, and that can be a challenge… We have done well to put a good team together that’s focused on successfully delivering the project. The project will open this year. We’re less than 12 months away from our contract date.
“This is the best time in a project for me,” says Hankins. “The big impacts are over. The closures have happened. You have impacted the people you have to impact as much as you’re going to. That is all behind us now, and this will be the year of opening things back up again. That’s an exciting time in a project.”
The project predominantly falls south of the Oak Ridges Moraine plan area, an environmentally sensitive area and the source of several south-flowing rivers and creeks, says Calvin Curtis, head, Planning and Engineering, Ontario Ministry of Transportation.
Provincial approval was obtained in June 2010 and the federal Minister of the Environment permitted the project to proceed in July, 2011.
The area is home to several endangered species and permits were obtained under the Ontario Endangered Species Act. There are plans to assist in the recovery of several species at risk. These include constructing nesting sites for barn swallows.
Some 35 wet/dry passage structures for wildlife will be built at watercourse crossing sites such as culverts and bridges. There will be two dry culvert structures for wildlife.
Fencing will be installed to guide wildlife to the passage structures and plantings at wildlife crossings will provide cover.
In addition, escape ramps that enable trapped wildlife to escape the transportation corridor will be built.
Aquatic life was another concern. “For the structures, we’re building new, longer alignments between the piers, and the environmental people are concerned with the effects on the fish during construction,” says Alonso. The response will be to shorten the construction time on the alignments.
A 205-m. realignment of part of Lynde Creek is needed to accommodate Rossland Rd. crossing the West Durham Link. The channel design will mimic the existing watercourse channel in terms of size, slope and depth. New planting will restore and enhance cover, and natural substrates, riffles, pools and in-stream cover will enhance fish habitat.
Storm water management ponds and landscaping to promote shade and help regulate water temperatures will mitigate storm water runoff.
The landscape plan is an ecologically integrated approach that merges landscaping with ecological restoration and reflects the character of local ecosystems. The landscaping will visually mitigate the project and buffer residential areas from the highway, among other things.
The Highway 407 East Phase 2 project includes:
The cost of the project will be announced in the next few months following financial close procedures. Construction work is expected to begin in fall, 2015. Phase 2, like Phase 1, will be publicly owned and controlled.
Jim Barnes is contributing editor of On-Site magazine. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org