On-Site Magazine

Transportation takes centre stage

By Saul Chernos   

Bridges Construction Infrastructure Roads

Population and density driving road and transit projects.

Artist concept of the Gordie Howe International Bridge. (IMAGE COURTESY OF WINDSOR-DETROIT BRIDGE AUTHORITY)

Despite lingering uncertainty about the economy and disputes between the provincial and federal governments over governance, it’s pretty much full steam ahead for road and public transit projects across Canada.



Illustration of the Langley City Centre Station of the Surrey Langley SkyTrain. (IMAGE COURTESY OF THE B.C. MINISTRY OF TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE)

In British Columbia this past December, the long-awaited Surrey-Langley SkyTrain extension took a big step towards seeing shovels in the ground when project propo- nents released the official names for eight new stations.

Green Timbers, 152 Street, Fleetwood, Bakerview-166 Street, Hillcrest-184 Street, Clayton, Willowbrook, and Langley City Centre Stations represent the heart of the $4-billion, 16-kilometre above-ground extension of the Expo Line. If all goes to plan, commuters will be able to travel on rail between Langley and downtown Vancouver in just over an hour.


Port Coquitlam mayor Brad West, chair of the regional mayors’ council, underscored the extension’s importance to ongoing population growth, predicting 50,000 new residents will continue to move into Metro Vancouver annually.

“By investing in public transit, we are helping make the lives of these new British Columbians easier while simultaneously improving the quality of life and travel for everyone else,” West told journalists when the station names were announced.

The project is being delivered through three separate contracts for the guideway, province has announced the firms selected to respond to the requests for proposals. Contracts are expected to be signed early this year. Some advance work started four years ago, including utility relocations and the now-completed widening of Fraser Highway between 140 and 148 Streets. Proponents say they expect construction of the extension itself to begin by year’s end.

Kelly Scott, president of the B.C. Road Builders and Heavy Construction Association, says the work stands to help the economy and keep his members and others in the construction sector busy.

“It will be fairly active for everybody,” Kelly says, adding it will help ease the housing shortage by enabling growth outside already-dense urban centres. “Rather than driving for an hour and a half, people living in the Surrey area will be able to jump onto a SkyTrain and commute into Vancouver.”

The SkyTrain extension isn’t B.C.’s only major porject. The province is on the cusp of forming a Fraser River Crossing tunnel project team. Projected at $4.15 billion with possible completion by 2030, the eight-lane tunnel will replace the old Massey Tunnel and look to ease commuter and commercial traffic along Highway 99 around Vancouver and south towards Washington State.

The Fraser Valley Highway 1 Corridor Improvement Program also continues, with about $1 billion being spent to improve and widen sections between Langley and Abbotsford, and Sumas Prairie to Chilliwack. Improvements also continue along Highway 1 between Kamloops and Golden, and crews in multiple areas are mitigating impacts on roads from severe weather.

The timing of these works is fortuitous, says Scott, “Site C is coming to an end, the Kicking Horse project is coming to an end, and the pipeline is coming to an end. There’s going to be 5,000 to 15,000 workers in our industry looking for work.”



Underground station concept rendering for Calgary’s Green Line LRT. (IMAGE COURTESY OF CITY OF CALGARY)

In Alberta, Calgary’s Green Line LRT continues to move towards construction with utility relocation and design work underway, along with negotiations with the lead contractors chosen to develop the first stretch of the two-phase, $5.5-billion project.

With 29 stations planned, the 46-kilometre line stands to become the largest public infrastructure project in Calgary’s history and the city’s first rail line to operate low-floor trains. The line will be powered through wind generation and will run between Calgary’s north-central and southeastern boundaries, connecting with the Red and Blue lines downtown.

Bow Transit Connectors has been selected as development partner for Phase 1, which will see 13 stations built along an 18-kilometre corridor from the downtown southwards.

Construction looked set to begin in early 2021, but then-Premier Jason Kenney famously characterized the line as “a train to nowhere” and his government withheld funding for two years. The province eventually supported the project, and PCL Construction was retained to oversee utility relocations. Bow Transit Connectors has since brought in Barnard Constructors of Canada, Flatiron Constructors Canada, WSP Canada, and EllisDon Capital.

With two kilometres of tunnel as well as bridges crossing two rivers and multiple roadways, Phase 1 has its share of complexities, and debate now centres around tunnels, routing, development around stations, and escalating costs. In fact, one founding member of the Ad Hoc Citizens Committee to Rethink the Green Line has publicly described the project as “too big to get wrong.”

Costs are indeed nothing to ignore. The city’s Green Line Board has acknowledged that committed spending has already passed the $1-billion mark, largely going towards design and engineering, preliminary work, land acquisition, utility relocation, and procuring 28 rail cars.

Planning is expected to continue through June, with construction potentially beginning later this year. Proponents say they expect the construction of Phase 1, alone, will generate 20,000 jobs.

“It’s a massive project,” says Ron Glen, CEO of the Alberta Roadbuilders & Heavy Construction Association.

Clearly, the project looks to address growing traffic congestion. The route runs alongside much of the busy Deerfoot Trail, the primary link between north-central and southeast Calgary. “Calgary is a very spreadout city,” Glen says. “This should make the downtown more attractive.”

Phase 2 would run northwards but remains in its earliest planning stages, with some preliminary funding already allocated.

Looking northward in the province, also underway is the Yellowhead Freeway conversion in Edmonton. The largest roadworks program in northern Alberta, it has a valuation of just over $1 billion. Also known as Highway 16, it is a major east-west thoroughfare which the City of Edmonton committed years ago to upgrading.

“The work includes a number of interchanges, reconfigurations and new roadways to accommodate closed roads so that it can become a full freeway,” Glen says. It stands to replace the Calgary and Edmonton Ring Roads as a significant source of jobs.



Illustration depicting the new Île-aux-Tourtes bridge. (IMAGE COURTESY OF MINISTÈRE DES TRANSPORTS ET DE LA MOBILITÉ DURABLE)

Bridge projects continue to be a mainstay for construction in Quebec with shovels officially hitting the ground in December for the $2.3-billion Île-aux-Tourtes bridge. The new span will replace a badly aging structure, which was built in 1965 but has experienced ongoing safety closures, frustrating commuters crossing this major access point on Route 40 between Vaudreuil-Dorion and the island of Montreal.

The new six-lane bridge, just north of the existing structure, will offer widened shoulders for bus service and a path for pedestrians and cyclists. Quebec’s Ministère des Transports et de la Mobilité durable plans to open it by 2027, with removal of the original structure expected by 2030.

“This new link will be better adapted to the realities of the region’s citizens, and will ensure a smoother flow of traffic,” Minister Geneviève Guilbault said in a recent public statement.

Other bridge work includes replacing the central slab on the Laviolette Bridge on Route 55 between Trois‑Rivi.res and Bécancour. Pegged at $261 million, it’s slated for completion by mid-2025. And planning is underway to rebuild the Honor.‑Mercier bridge on Route 138.

Tunnelling is also active. The current $2.5 billion projected for repairs to the Louis-Hippolyte-La Fontaine bridge-tunnel underneath the Saint Lawrence River near Montreal make that the province’s current biggest-ticket roadworks item, according to the Quebec Construction Commission’s annual economic overview. Completion is expected in 2025. As well, repairs to the Ville-Marie and Viger tunnels, estimated at $2 billion, are forecast to wind up in 2030.

Multiple highway projects in the province include the ongoing $890-million extension of Highway 19 between Highways 440 and 640 in Laval, which is slated for completion in 2027. Phase 3 of some $883.3 million in upgrades to Route 185 between Saint-Antonin and Bas-Saint-Laurent region near New Brunswick are also scheduled to end late next year. And more than $493 million in improvements are underway along Route 389 between Baie Comeau and Fermont, near the Labrador border.

Public transit projects are also making headlines. In Montreal, an extension of the Metro Blue Line, awarded in 2023, is currently set at $6.4 billion, with substantial completion projected by 2030. One leg of a $6.9-billion undertaking on the Réseau Express Metropolitain (REM) is slated for substantial completion later this year, but further plans remain uncertain.

Xavier Turcotte, spokesperson for the Quebec Road Builders and Heavy Construction Association, says road-related projects, in particular, have been gaining traction, with more work on tap for 2024 than in previous years.

“We’re optimistic,” Turcotte says, adding that a deputy minister from the transport ministry addressed his association’s annual conference and indicated additional infrastructure activity in the years ahead. “We must continue to develop our road network, whether for long distances, the transport of goods, or essential services.”



In Ontario, work continues on the $6.4-billion Gordie Howe International Bridge. Completion is now expected to happen in September of 2025. Crews recently finished the two bridge towers, and tasks now include connecting the two bridge decks over the Detroit River, installing the remainder of 216 stay cables, completing the point-of-entry agency buildings, and concrete work.

Highways are also a high priority. Crews continue to widen Highway 17 from two to four lanes between Kenora and the Manitoba border, and some early works have been underway for more than a year on the 16.3-kilometre Bradford Bypass, which stands to link Highways 400 and 404 north of Toronto. The province retained AECOM Canada to undertake a project-specific environmental assessment for the route itself, and requests for proposals stand to be issued early this year for engineering and design and, later this year, for other contractors for the western section.

Less certain are prospects for Highway 413, which would run 60 kilometres through suburbs north and west of Toronto. Preliminary planning and design are underway, but the project remains designated for a federal environmental assessment.

While the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled aspects of the federal Impact Assessment Act infringe on provincial jurisdiction, jurists reaffirmed federal environmental assessments are appropriate if they respect the constitutional division of powers and address matters clearly within national jurisdiction such as indigenous rights, migratory birds, federally protected species, and federally regulated waters and fisheries.

The federal government hasn’t yet stated how it will apply the decision to transportation projects, and so the province has applied to the Federal Court of Canada for a judicial review of Highway 413.

At the annual convention of the Ontario Road Builders Association in February, Premier Doug Ford reiterated his government’s commitment “to ensure that Ottawa can’t impede or stop desperately needed infrastructure projects like Highway 413.”

Meanwhile, work continues on several large public transit projects. Tunnel boring for a 7.8-kilometre, three-station extension of the Scarborough Subway Line is underway, with a projected 2030 service date and cost projections reaching $5.5 billion. And, early site preparation is underway for the Ontario Line, which is expected to cost up to $19 billion and possibly open by 2031.

Nadia Todorova, executive director of the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario, says the province “has done a good job in terms of prioritizing infrastructure investment for transformational infrastructure projects like the Ontario Line, Highway 413, and the Bradford Bypass, and also providing funding for general maintenance of infrastructure assets.”

Ontario Road Builders Association CEO Walid Abou-Hamde, meanwhile, says ORBA fully supports Premier Ford and the Ontario government in asserting provincial jurisdiction over infrastructure development.

Says Abou-Hamde, “We call on our federal partners to join our effort to get these generational projects built.”


Saul Chernos is a freelance writer and author, and is a regular contributor to On-Site Magazine.


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