Deh Cho Bridge spans may be joined by Christmas
50 metre gap remains between north and south edges
Fifty metres remains between the north and south spans of the Deh Cho Bridge, which the N.W.T. Department of Transportation hopes will be open to traffic by this time next year.
Ann Lanteigne with the Department of Transportation said contractors hope to weld the two sides together before Christmas. Then they'll erect two pylons to support cables and start laying down the deck, but they can't pour concrete until the weather warms up.
"If it takes a long time into June before we can get temperatures 5 C, pouring would have to wait," said Lanteigne.
The bridge across the Mackenzie River at Fort Providence will be the first all-season link between much of the territory and southern Canada. Traffic between communities along Highway 3 north of the river, including the territorial capital of Yellowknife, and Alberta currently relies on ferry service in the summer and an ice bridge in the winter. During freeze-up and break-up of the river, those communities can be cut off.
Construction on the bridge began in 2008, and it was originally expected to be completed by fall 2010.
A re-design midway through construction, disputes with the project management and the chief contractor, and construction materials arriving late on site have all contributed to the project taking longer than anticipated, along with the usual challenges faced by construction projects in the North, such as weather and shortages of labour.
This created a domino effect that pushed work back another season.
"There's nothing we can put our finger on specifically," said Lanteigne. "The contractor has been working at their pace to get to this stage that we're at today and we're happy to see where it is."
Since former premier Joe Handley signed a concession agreement in 2007, the project has been a frequent target when people talk about government misspending and mismanaging the project. In the spring, auditor general Sheila Fraser warned the cost of the bridge could exceed its $182 million estimate.
As a regular MLA, Dave Ramsay was one of the project’s most outspoken critics. Now minister of Transportation, he's cagey about nailing down a price tag.
"That all remains to be seen," said Ramsay. "With a project this size, there's going to be a lot of moving parts. We'll see where it all falls out."
The government has said the project will be financed by the elimination of ferry and ice bridge service and by a toll on commercial vehicles using the bridge.
The department maintains the contractors will have to absorb the cost of an extra construction season but disputes about who's responsible for the delays have ended up in court before and may again.
"There's processes in place to have those processes resolved one way or another," said Ramsay. "We'll wait to see how that all plays itself out as well."