Lib­er­als pull pol­i­tics out of paving with five-year roads plan

Gov­ern­ment ex­pects sav­ings from change in ap­proach to ten­der­ing, con­tract­ing

The Aurora (Labrador City) - - NEWS - BY ASH­LEY FITZ­PATRICK TC ME­DIA

Trans­porta­tion and Works Min­is­ter Al Hawkins promised a five- year pro­vin­cial roads plan would be out by the end of Jan­uary. True to his word, he is set to re­lease the plan to­day.

“This is a fun­da­men­tal change in the way in which gov­ern­ment is do­ing road­work,” Hawkins said, tak­ing ques­tions on the plan from The Tele­gram Mon­day af­ter­noon.

The out­look on in­fra­struc­ture was talked about on the cam­paign trail and through­out the first year of the new Lib­eral gov­ern­ment. Pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions in that time, plus all of the sub­se­quent num­ber crunch­ing and a deep dive into how projects are put to con­trac­tors was all about a simple idea: time is money.

The five-year roads plan is ex­pected to help the prov­ince get a first round of ten­ders for an­nual road­work out sooner. The ear­lier ten­ders each year will al­low heavy civil com­pa­nies to get con­tracts in hand, al­low­ing more time to plan and pre­pare for the con­struc­tion sea­son, plus sort out is­sues aris­ing, and avoid­ing — at least through gov­ern­ment ac­tion — work car­ry­ing over into the fol­low­ing year.

The “carry-overs” have been a prob­lem for the prov­ince in the past.

In 2014, The Tele­gram re­ported on the sub­ject of car­ry­overs and fed up con­trac­tors. At the time, Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive min­is­ter Nick McGrath touted the fact the gov­ern­ment was im­prov­ing on the sta­tus quo. First ten­ders for that year, he said, were out on March 1. In 2017, first ten­ders are go­ing out be­fore Feb. 1, along with the five-year plan for road­work and bridge­work.

In terms of the out­look, not all projects for the next five years are listed. The work for this com­ing fis­cal year is there, 100 per cent. A rough 75 per cent of work ex­pected for 201819 is listed, drop­ping down to 50 per cent for 201920 and 25 per cent for the sub­se­quent two years.

The lower per­cent­ages of named projects the fur­ther out you go is to al­low for needed flex­i­bil­ity, the min­is­ter said. For ex­am­ple, there may be projects aris­ing to be slot­ted higher on the list of pri­or­i­ties. Projects might also find them­selves shoot­ing up the list if, for in­stance, they match with any spe­cial fed­eral pro­gram­ming aris­ing (not that there was any­thing spe­cific to be said on that, but only the idea the prov­ince needs to re­tain the abil­ity to cap­i­tal­ize).

As for what is listed, there is no simple path to se­lect­ing main­te­nance and im­prove­ments on about 9,763 kilo­me­tres of pro­vin­cial roads and 1,317 bridges and large cul­verts.

Hawkins said the list of po­ten­tial projects is grow­ing each year. But that’s also part of hav­ing as com­pre­hen­sive an out­look as pos­si­ble, he said.

Apart from early ten­der­ing, he said, the Lib­er­als be­lieve plan­ning ahead will al­low the gov­ern­ment to iden­tify more places where projects can be pack­aged to­gether and com­pa­nies can point to where they might flow more ef­fi­ciently from one needed project into the next.

And more lead time means more time to pur­sue fed­eral fund­ing, to as­sure re­quire­ments for cost-shar­ing projects are met and, in­creas­ingly, lockin start dates.

The Lib­er­als have talked about the five-year plan as a way to “take the pol­i­tics out of paving,” get­ting away from is­su­ing so much per district or some­thing to find favour in an elec­toral district. Hawkins did not cite any spe­cific ex­am­ples.

“I think for us, it’s im­por­tant when we’re fac­ing the fis­cal sit­u­a­tion the prov­ince is in, to do a bet­ter job of plan­ning,” he said. “We’ve got to do a bet­ter job of iden­ti­fy­ing and us­ing ev­i­dence, the ev­i­dence-based cri­te­ria for us to make wise de­ci­sions. We are spend­ing tax­pay­ers’ dol­lars and I think the time has come for us to be able to say cat­e­gor­i­cally that what roads we have in this five-year plan are roads that have gone through a process whereby we have used a qual­i­ta­tive, a quan­ti­ta­tive (review) and an ex­pert panel of engi­neers to de­ter­mine where the pri­or­i­ties are at.”

In ad­di­tion to the five-year plan, the gov­ern­ment is mak­ing pub­lic a “Guide to rank­ing road and bridge projects,” set­ting out pre­cisely how road and bridge projects are be­ing val­ued, rated and ranked.

The first step in the process in­volves scor­ing: road safety, road con­di­tion, class (a lo­cal road, a main ac­cess road to the com­mu­nity, etc.) and po­ten­tial eco­nomic im­pact. There is an en­gi­neer­ing-based eval­u­a­tion of pave­ment con­di­tion, rut­ting, us­age and con­sid­er­a­tion of safety eval­u­a­tions. The lat­ter, for bridges, would in­cor­po­rate bridge in­spec­tion re­ports and weight any pro­posed bridge repairs based on ex­ist­ing con­di­tions.

And did Hawkins have a hand in pick­ing the next projects?

“For next year’s project, I don’t think there’s any changes,” he said of the list pre­sented by staff, when asked about the pol­i­tics that might re­main.

The five-year roads plan will be up­dated ev­ery year.

For 2017- 18, the prov­ince has planned $77.2-mil­lion in road­work. This in­cludes work on over­passes, cul­verts and bridges. A com­plete project list is avail­able on­line at gov.nl.ca.

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