Across Canada, governments at all levels have prioritized infrastructure investment to stimulate economic recovery from COVID-19. In the 2020 budget, the B.C. government made capital commitments totalling $22.9 billion over three years – the highest level of capital spending ever recorded.
Several multibillion-dollar infrastructure projects will ensure the B.C. construction industry stays busy including two high-profile transportation ones: the $1.4 billion Patullo Bridge replacement across the Fraser River and the $2.8 billion Broadway SkyTrain extension in Vancouver. Transportation Investment Corporation (TI Corp) is leading the delivery of both projects on behalf of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
Site work has begun on the Broadway Subway Project, a 5.7 km extension of the Millennium Line, from VCC-Clark Station to Broadway and Arbutus, with six new stations. The design-build contract was awarded to the Broadway Subway Project Corporation, an Acciona-Ghella joint venture in September 2020.
Current work includes some building demolition to make space for the new station entrances, and laydown areas for storage and staging. The first buildings scheduled for removal are on the 100 block of East Broadway and 2500 block of Main Street for the future Mount Pleasant Station. All demolition work is to be completed by the end of April, in preparation for the start of station construction.
A key component for this project is traffic management, which runs along one of Vancouver’s busiest corridors, according to executive project director Lisa Gow at TI Corp.
“Unlike the Canada Line, it’s not intended to be cut and cover. There will be some surface disruption at each end of the line at Arbutus and Great Northern Way. There will be excavation at station locations from the surface but phased decking will be put in place. The objective is to ensure there are four lanes of traffic at all times,” said Gow, who was a speaker at the Transportation Conference 2021 hosted virtually by ACEC-BC.
Upcoming construction activities will include the tunnel portal and elevated guideway near Great Northern Way, with tunnelling to begin in 2022. Two tunneling boring machines will bore parallel 6m diameter tunnels to Arbutus. The station boxes will be excavated before the TBM machines arrive, said Gow. Great Northern Way will be the first station built, and Arbutus will be the last station built.
For the design of the stations, opportunities for integration were explored. The station at Cambie Street will be fully integrated with the Canada Line’s existing Broadway-City Hall Station where passengers can transfer underground between the two lines.
“At South Granville, PCI is building a new commercial building. They will build the South Granville station box and our contractor will do the station fit out. This is the first fully integrated station in B.C.,” noted Gow. “The design of most of the stations has been done to allow for future developments to do overbuilds over the station head houses.”
Although the Broadway project was well underway when COVID-19 hit in 2020, it still created anxiety and the province had to adapt to the market’s willingness to take on fixed price risk.
“During COVID, we ask bidders to be specific about where they felt they can manage the risk and where they cannot manage the risk,” said Gow. “We ultimately reached a balance with proponents taking on known risks and the province taking on future risks related to changes in health orders, inability to get materials and unforeseen COVID related risks.”
The pandemic has also changed community engagement. The Broadway line has more than 2,000 stakeholders and the normal engagement methods such as public open houses and in person meetings weren’t possible because of the pandemic, noted Gow, requiring more focus on social media and providing more information on websites.
“Major projects require adaptation, innovation and communication,” she said, crediting the construction industry for stepping up and keeping the project on track. “Everyone’s learned to be creative during COVID.”
The global crisis similarly impacted the Pattullo Bridge Placement project, according to Wendy Itagawa, executive project director, TI Corp.
“We awarded the contract and then COVID hit,” she said. “We had to adjust pretty quickly and switched to virtual and online – not just with our internal team but stakeholders and municipalities. It was a challenge to implement quickly.”
Itagawa said the construction team did a “superb job of implementing protocols” with the onset of COVID and the project has been able to progress despite the “new normal.”
Fraser Crossing Partners led by Acciona was awarded the contract in February 2020 to build the new four-lane cable stayed bridge that is a key connection between Surrey and New Westminster.
The design includes dedicated pedestrian and cyclist lanes, separated from traffic, that will improve safety for all road users and encourage active transportation options. The bridge will be built to allow for potential future expansion to six lanes. The design uses two in-river piers instead of the six piers of the existing bridge.
The new bridge will be built to modern safety and seismic standards, located upstream of the rail bridge and the existing Pattullo Bridge, said Itagawa, pointing out key considerations include working in and around the Fraser River (marine traffic, underwater noise) and building in highly urban areas (minimizing disruption and traffic management).
The project also focuses on integration with each municipality so “many urban design features are being incorporated including boulevards, landscaping, street furniture and wayfinding,” said Itagawa, adding environmental permitting is a big component of this project which required extensive consultations.
Subject to final permitting, major construction in the Fraser River is scheduled to begin over the coming months. When the new bridge opens in 2023, work will begin on the demolition of the existing structure.
Cheryl Mah is managing editor of Construction Business.