REGINA – The Government of Saskatchewan will be investing nearly $2 billion into construction of the new Regina bypass – the largest infrastructure project in the province’s history.
The $1.88 billion investment is expected to cover all project costs – design, construction, finance, operations and maintenance. The federal government is also contributing $200 million towards the project. The City of Regina and RM of Sherwood will also shoulder some of the costs.
The project will see the construction of a dozen overpasses and approximately 40 kilometres of new twinned highway. Construction is expected to begin later this summer and is estimated to be completed in 2019.
The project will be managed as a public-private partnership (P3), a model the province says will save approximately $380 million.
Originally estimated to cost approximately $1.2 billion, the new higher price-tag isn’t sitting well with the opposition.
NDP Critic John Nilson questioned the cost savings associated with the P3 model.
“Build it yourself is often the cheapest way to do these things,” he said. “A year ago, this project was estimated to cost between $700-800 million. How did the price increase by over a billion dollars in 12 months?”
The province was quick to defend itself.
“Since that time there’s been a change in the scope of the project,” said SaskBuilds Minister Gordon Wyant. “There’s two new interchanges that are being built.”
Three decades of maintenance have been added to the contract as well.
“They’re responsible for maintaining this project over the next thirty years, so it’s in their best interests to ensure it’s built properly, built right,” said Wyant.
Early construction work also revealed an issue with nearby utilities.
“There’s 430 points of conflict between the utilities, pipelines and the like that have to be dealt with,” Wyant explained.
With those recent additions to the contract, the NDP is concerned about further cost overruns.
SaskBuilds said that’s not something taxpayers have to worry about with the P3 model.
“It’s a fixed price contract. So if there are cost-overruns, they are incurred by the successful project consortium building these roads, that is their cost,” said CEO Rupen Pandya. “We have passed that risk on to them.”
Drivers shouldn’t have to worry about the project falling behind schedule either. The first phase of the bypass, including two overpasses east of Regina, is scheduled to be complete in 2017 and contractors promise they will stick to those deadlines.
“We are subject to some significant financial penalties if we fail to do that,” said Tim Heavenor, President of the Regina Bypass Partners.
The province anticipates the project will lead to the creation of 8,200 construction-related jobs.
The selected bypass route has been met with opposition from some groups, who say they have been frustrated by a lack of information about the project.
The ‘Why Tower Road’ group said it doesn’t understand the province’s decision.
“We’re simply flabbergasted that the government has chosen the route at Tower Road, in the city limits at an incredible cost to taxpayers,” said Nestor Mryglod.
He said the group’s northern route would save taxpayers a significant sum of money.
Despite the opposition, the project is moving ahead along the Tower Road route.
Construction will undoubtedly add time to some drivers’ commutes. White City’s mayor is already preparing for criticism, “I think probably the next group of complaints may be “it’s taking us too long to get into the city, through all of the construction delays,” said Bruce Evans.
But Evans added safety, which is the driving force behind the overpass, must come first. If people voice complaints to him, he’ll have little sympathy.
“Suck it up, buttercup.”