Nova Scotia

Washmill Lake underpass project flawed from start: auditor general

Halifax's auditor general has presented a long awaited report on the controversial Washmill Lake underpass. Larry Munroe says the city didn't get value for its money.

The underpass ended up costing about $16 million

In 2010 Halifax estimated the work would total about $10 million, with $4.5 million from the municipality and the rest split between the federal and provincial governments.

Halifax's auditor general has presented a long awaited report on the controversial Washmill Lake underpass and Larry Munroe says the city didn't get value for its money.

The Washmill Lake underpass was constructed as a third route into the Bayer's Lake shopping district to alleviate traffic problems and accommodate ongoing development in the area.

The project took a lot longer than expected and went millions of dollars over budget. Munroe estimates the project is likely $11 million over budget for the city's portion, not $6 million as was the original estimate.

At Halifax City Hall on Wednesday, Munroe said he's not even sure it's completely finished.

There are 55 recommendations in total in the report.

Munroe said the project did not appear to be well thought out and managers at the time were making the best of bad situation.

The report said staff did not always communicate with regional council in a clear and transparent manner.

'Perfect storm'

The report called the project a perfect storm and suggests someone needs to be in charge of assessing risks with projects of this size. The recommendation to hire a chief risk officer was initially made after the city's concert scandal, and Munroe says the need still exists. 

Munroe said it's possible the project was in trouble from the beginning, with no clear definitions on project requirements and no policies or procedures to guide it along. That lack of controls led to confusion.

He says that can be traced back to the culture and tone set from the top at city hall.

Munroe said just because someone was responsible for the underpass project, doesn't mean there was an actual project manager.

If you don't have a leader, you don't have a team

Munroe pointed out the city is hiring a project manager to lead the Cogswell interchange project, pointing out if you don't have a leader, you don't have a team.

As of May 2014, the city had not received certification for the Washmill Lake structure, and Munroe says the city needs to ensure it meets standards. He also said council should have an immediate update on the remaining phases, costs and timing.

Halifax CAO Richard Butts confirmed he checked that the project does meet provincial standards and the certification package is on its way.

In 2010, Halifax estimated the work would total about $10 million, with $4.5 million from the municipality and the rest split between the federal and provincial governments.

The municipal auditor general spent more than a year investigating the project.

City managers have spent almost another year mulling over all the recommendations.

CBC's Pam Berman is live tweeting from the meeting

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