Tales of shoddy asphalt and upside-down bridges

By MPP Toby Barrett

Just before Christmas we received the Auditor General’s 2016 Annual Report. The title of the associated news release sums it up . . 2016 annual report identifies need for improvements.

The report presents the results of value-for-money audits of spending in health care, environment, government procurement and employment programs as well as road and transit construction. Ontario’s Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk laid out a blistering indictment of the present government’s waste, mismanagement and scandal.

There were some colourful stories, but none that got heads spinning more than the ‘upside-down bridge’ tale. The contractor of a pedestrian bridge, that crosses Highway 401 in Pickering, was so bad that Metrolinx had to take over the completion. They hired the same contractor who then caused “significant damage” to the bridge in phase two. Even after installing one of the trusses upside down, they were paid $19 million. This bridge builder was then re-hired for a new $39 million GO contract.

Then there’s the case of the engineer who certified the Trans-Canada Highway’s Nipigon River Bridge even though some steel was 30 per cent weaker than required. The bridge failed last January, just six weeks after it was opened, severing a vital link in cross-country commerce.

Although the auditor general’s report didn’t delve into the successive delays with the Cayuga bridge on Highway 3, I wonder how much extra government bungling and political correctness cost the taxpayer. I have asked the question in the Legislature many times over and have yet to receive an answer.

Although specific roads weren’t named in the report, the government was accused of allowing sub-standard pavement. I think of the mess a few years back on Highway 6 south of Jarvis – a road repaved under the NDP and repaved again under the Liberals.

“Substandard asphalt leads to early cracking of provincial highways,” Lysyk wrote. The asphalt on provincial highways is supposed to last 15 years. But in many cases, the paving begins to crack after less than three — necessitating repaving that costs taxpayers millions. Lysyk also found the government pays bonuses to paving companies for using higher-quality asphalt, but some of them provided high-quality samples for testing then used lower-quality asphalt on the road.

The cumulative effect of these stories is damning, and paints a picture of a tired and negligent government, incapable of successfully providing even the most basic services. This is worrisome when we realize the Ministry of Transportation will be spending $14 billion over the next 10 years on roads and bridges.

For a government that prides itself as green, the report points out current processes for assessing the environmental impact of projects and plans are not in line with best practices across Canada and internationally.

Finally, we saw far too many instances of a government doing what’s in their best interest, not in the best interest of the people of Ontario. Capitalizing on the changes to the advertising rules the government brought in last year, and spending $50 million on self-congratulatory ads, is a prime example.

When the government writes a cheque – whether it’s for a new transit project, building a bridge or paving a road – the people of Ontario expect their government to ensure they are getting value for their dollar. The government needs to understand it’s our taxpayer dollars they are spending.