Millions in late penalties and still no opening date for Walterdale Bridge

Millions of dollars in penalties are being racked up, and there's still no firm opening date for the new Walterdale Bridge in Edmonton's river valley.

The contractor is facing penalties totalling $17,000 per day because of delays

The 2,000-tonne central arch of the new Walterdale bridge was raised in April 2016. Its permanent height of 54 metres above the river, is about the same height as the High Level Bridge. (CBC)

Millions of dollars in penalties are being racked up and there's still no firm opening date for the new Walterdale Bridge in Edmonton's river valley.

The new river crossing was originally slated to open in November 2015.

But the date was first pushed back until late 2016 and then to mid-2017. Now the city can only say it will open "sometime this year."

The contractor is being hit with two penalties for the delays totalling $17,000 per day.

"The bridge will be open in 2017," said Adam Laughlin, the city's manager of infrastructure. "With a bridge of this complexity and some of the challenges we've had, we're hesitant to identify a specific date for opening."
There will be no 'big pot of money' at the end of this project," said Adam Laughlin, deputy city manager, integrated infrastructure services. (CBC)

Staff are reluctant to offer a specific opening date because it's up to the contractor, said Coun. Ben Henderson.

"Although it's annoying it's not done ... the good thing on the Walterdale Bridge project is it's not affecting traffic flow," he said.

The lack of a firm date raises a red flag for Coun. Mike Nickel.

"It lends an accusation to the administration that they don't know, that there might be other problems or situations we're not aware of," said Nickel. "That lends itself to the question whether or not they've got a good handle on the project."

As of June 2015, the contractor was hit with a $10,000-a-day penalty. In October 2016, an additional $7,000-per-day penalty was added.
Crews in South Korea constructed the arches for the new bridge. There were delays in building and shipping those arches to Edmonton. (City of Edmonton )

Those penalties will remain in place until the bridge opens, said Laughlin. The penalties already total up to $8 million and counting.

The contractor has not actually handed over any money to the city, Laughlin said.

The way these contracts work is the city holds back some of the payment to the contractor for the work done, until it's completed. In this case, the amount the city is holding back to pay the contractor is more than what the penalties will amount to, he said.

The total budget for the project is $155 million.

Surplus possible, city official says

There is the potential for the city to end up with a surplus once the bridge is opened, said McLaughlin.

But the delays to the completion of the project also mean the city is continuing to incur costs, and "a big pot of money at the end of this project" is not anticipated, he said.

Ongoing costs for the city include contract management, project management and engineering drawing reviews, said Laughlin. On any given day, 20 to 40 workers are on site, he added.

The penalties will help compensate the city for those continuing costs, but he said it's too early to determine if the city will end up with any extra cash at the end of this project.

"When the bridge opens, when we start to resolve some of the contractual claims ... then we'll be in a better position to know, said Laughlin.