Why are Montreal's roads so bad? Contractors bid low, cut corners, report finds

Montreal contractors often submit low-ball bids to win contracts and then compensate those bids with corner-cutting repaving techniques that fail to meet quality standards, the city's inspector general has found.

Failure to comply with the city's quality standards makes roads more prone to cracking and potholes

Montreal's Bureau de l'Inspecteur Général is accusing contractors of cutting corners on Montreal's road construction projects, contributing to the city's annual pothole problem. (Simon-Marc Charron/Radio-Canada)

Montreal contractors often submit low-ball bids to win contracts and then compensate those bids with corner-cutting repaving techniques that fail to meet quality standards, the city's inspector general has found.

The contractors' failure to comply with the city's requirements — and the failure by construction site supervisors to flag these issues — leads to potholes and cracks in the asphalt after the winter freeze and thaw, states the 29-page, biannual report which city council tabled Monday.

"Observations on the sites show that some entrepreneurs try to save time and money by saving on the quantities and quality of the equipment in spite of the standards or technical requirements," interim Inspector General Brigitte Bishop said in the report.

The report cites witness interviews, meetings with material controllers and surveillance on 83 road construction sites across the city over the first half of 2018.

It is the contractor's responsibility to read the job's specifications, verify the working methods requested and then present a price that covers all of the costs involved, according to the report

Instead, contractors are lowering prices in an effort to outbid competitors and then shrugging off specs to save money.

In her report, Bishop takes aim at the city's construction site supervisors for failing to call out shoddy work — work such as paving over unrepaired cracks and potholes or failing to go through the proper steps of framing out a sidewalk.

The inspector general also found cases of contractors using unacceptable materials, such as bituminous mixes that do not comply with the city's requirements.

The report acknowledges that supervisors may experience pressure from companies to green light poor workmanship.

While road construction woes are highlighted throughout the report, the sidewalk industry is showing signs of reform, with work costing half as much as it did before the 2015 Charbonneau Commission. (Charles Contant/CBC)

It is likely to avoid confrontation and other consequences that some supervisors "accommodate the contractor by accepting certain recurring irregularities," it states.

However, the report adds, "although this may lead to discontent, it is up to the supervisors to act with rigour and to fully assume their responsibilities" as the role of the supervisor is to detect deficiencies and to ensure those deficiencies are corrected.

Sidewalks better than before, at least

Despite the quality control issues, the report does find the sidewalk industry to be "more open and competitive," showing it has reformed since the 2015 Charbonneau Commission exposed corruption and collusion throughout the construction industry.

As a result, the report states, sidewalks now cost up to half as much as a few years ago.

Regardless, the inspector general says the sidewalk industry remains a vulnerable sector because of its unsavoury past.

With Montreal planning major investments in sidewalk infrastructure in the near future, the inspector general "intends to remain vigilant" and closely monitor future projects. 


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