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Councillor calls for suspension of Winnipeg’s public works director

0 328 Government

by Russell Hixson

A Winnipeg City Council member is calling for an investigation into the troubled Plessis Road underpass project that has seen its budget balloon and completion date pushed back.
Councillor calls for suspension of Winnipeg’s public works director

"At this point I have asked the CAO (chief administrative officer) of the City of Winnipeg to suspend the director of public works and to investigate and determine what steps need to be taken, whether we need a new management team from our side or whether or not there have been problems on the side of the private sector, " said Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt.

In 2012, federal, provincial and municipal officials announced that the Plessis Road Underpass was approved for joint funding by the three levels of government, with a budget of $77 million. The project includes an underpass of the CN Rail line, which is to be located north of the Plessis Road and Dugald Road intersection.

Other components of the project include land drainage system improvements, active transportation facilities, roadway improvements, relocation of utilities and the relocation of oil pipelines.

Wyatt said the public works department convinced the city and residents that not building a detour was the best way to go as it would add $15 million in costs and prolong the project.

Despite this, the project's budget has increased to $85 million.

And according to the city, two lanes of Plessis won't be open until at least the end of October 2015.

Originally, the city had scheduled to have the entire project completed by September 2015.

Wyatt said this is affecting up to 25,000 vehicles during peak hours with no detour.

"There is no doubt it was a complicated site to begin with," said Wyatt, explaining the complexity of dealing with the rail line and the oil pipelines.

He believes the original schedule was very aggressive and it soon became clear that public works was not prepared and things were not moving quickly.

During a recent city council meeting, public works director Brad Sacher said much of the complexity of the project has been dealing with the oil and rail companies.

He added that the budget was based only on a class five estimate and called it "the most difficult project in my 30-year engineering career."

Wyatt is also disappointed in the city's inability to motivate contractors to hit deadlines with bonuses and penalties that were part of the contracts.

Wyatt said officials have told him there are "outlying circumstances that would make it hard to enforce that now."

"Those were commitments made to the community and we understand that it's a complicated project, but at the same time it seems the management is a real concern," he said.

He explained that it's part of a long history of troubled projects that have plagued the city and triggered damaging audits.

The most recent one targeted the Waverley West arterial roads project.

According to the audit, the 2010 Capital Budget estimate for the project was too preliminary and cost the city an extra $15 million.

Currently investigators from the RCMP's federal serious and organized crime units are reviewing two projects: Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) Headquarters and Winnipeg Fire Paramedic stations.

The WPS headquarters review file has now turned into a full criminal probe.

"That has damaged the city's credibility and reputation in project management," Wyatt said.

"Here we are in the middle of another project, repeating the mistakes of the past in some ways it seems. If we are going to address this, rather than calling for another audit to tell us what we have been told before, let's deal with this now."

The most recent elections swept out the mayor and the majority of the council, partially on the issue of reforming the way the city handles construction and development.

Wyatt said he hopes Mayor Brian Bowman will use his powers to make changes soon.

"This makes the whole organization have a black eye," he said.

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