British Columbia·CBC Investigates

Inside CBC's Port Mann Bridge investigation

How do you research a story about the biggest transportation project in B.C. history, when no one attached to the project will speak on the record, and all you have are stacks of jargon-filled documents?

How CBC's investigative team probed into the megaproject

CBC investigative reporter Natalie Clancy pores over hundreds of documents leaked to CBC News, which started a year long investigation into the $3.3 billion dollar Port Mann Bridge and highway widening project. (Peter Scobie/CBC)

How do you research a story about the biggest transportation project in B.C. history, when no one attached to the project will speak on the record, and all you have are stacks of jargon-filled documents?

That's the problem CBC's Vancouver's investigative unit faced when someone anonymously leaked hundreds of documents last year.

The spreadsheets, invoices, meeting notes and reviews suggested taxpayers paid needlessly to speed up construction on the Port Mann Bridge and highway project in 2012.

The crown corporation in charge of the bridge, TI Corp, denies any money was spent needlessly.

CBC reached out to several former consultants, engineers, auditors and technologists who worked on the project and six agreed to provide information as long as their names were not revealed. They were worried that speaking publicly would harm their careers.

The Port Mann Bridge is the widest bridge in the world with ten lanes of traffic. (TI Corp.)

They helped us understand the conclusions of a report called TI Corp PMHI Construction Claims Review.

In October of 2016, CBC News requested documents about the megaproject through a freedom of information request to get more information and authenticate some of the leaked documents.

The transportation ministry requested a $480 dollar fee, and then requested several 30-day extensions, citing the need to consult outside parties such as KPMG and the contractor.

Six months later, CBC News filed a complaint to the information and privacy commissioner, after the province's "deemed refusal" to release the documents by the commissioner's proposed deadline of April 28, 2017, two weeks before the provincial election.

At that point, all government officials declined interview requests citing a policy that they don't speak publicly during provincial election campaigns.

Finally, two-and-a half weeks after the May provincial election, the ministry released 600 pages, but all financial details and references to the word "acceleration" were whited out.

SLIDE to see what officials redacted

The ministry cited two exemptions for keeping that information secret: disclosure would be harmful to the financial or economic interests of a public body and disclosure would be harmful to business interests of a third party

Concerns shared with province

The FOI documents show that a key claims review was shared with provincial officials.

A KPMG claims consultant emailed the same review that was leaked to CBC to four senior transportation ministry officials, including Rodney Chapman, director of construction and maintenance and provincial adviser on the Port Mann project.

Chapman responded saying "Thanks and well done." 

A month earlier, Chapman appeared to agree that TI Corp was being "generous" with the contractor, according to another document.

"KF [Kiewit Flatiron] has been compensated well above an MoTI [Ministry of Transportation] contractor on a typical major works contract," wrote Chapman, Oct. 12, 2012.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark opened the Port Mann Bridge Dec. 1, 2012 saying the project was "on budget" and would save commuters up to an hour a day. (The Canadian Press)

Chapman declined CBC's interview request.

BC Liberals say acceleration needed

Todd Stone, who became minister of transportation long after the bridge opened, eventually spoke to CBC two days before his government lost a confidence vote in June.

"There was a need to accelerate some of that work…I'm very satisfied the taxpayers got good value for dollars spent," said Stone in a brief interview. 

B.C Transportation Minister Todd Stone slapped a 'completed' sticker on the project Sept. 17, 2015 at a ceremony with Port Mann Bridge workers and engineers. (CBC)

Former premier Christy Clark also declined repeated written requests for an interview, as did the contractor, Kiewit Flatiron General Partnership.

TI Corp missed several deadlines to provide information and said no one who works at the crown corporation now was there where the Port Mann project was built, so no one could do an interview.


Instead it arranged a meeting with a former senior official who answered questions on background only. 

He provided CBC a two-page project summary and said TI Corp saved taxpayers $200 million in final negotiations with the contractor.

CBC has requested documents to confirm that through an FOI request.

The crown corporation has requested two extensions and agreed to waive a $3,660 document search fee after CBC narrowed its request and argued this research is in the public interest.

CBC News Investigates

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