Commuters on the Trans-Canada Highway are looking at another six months of construction on the McKenzie interchange, bringing the project’s completion into 2020 and well past its original target date of fall 2018.
The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure announced that due to this year’s winter conditions and unexpected variable rock encountered during drilling, the project will need more time.
Janelle Staite, regional deputy director with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, said that when workers were drilling to put in piles for a pier that would support the main bridge structure, variable rock was encountered much earlier than anticipated.
The unexpected rock sent engineers back to the drawing board to redesign and reconstruct plans in order to put the pier in the same spot. Staite said this set the project back about six to eight weeks.
The record snowfall this year also got in the way of construction.
“Snowfall in any construction site slows us down to a halt,” Staite said. “We can’t work when the site is covered in many inches of snow and we have to wait until that snow is cleared to get up and running again.”
Construction schedules for the interchange have also been altered to lessen traffic and noise, which Staite said is something the ministry is keeping in mind due to the proximity of residences in the area.
So far, the second and final construction contract is about 55 per cent complete with workers focusing on building the overpass over the Trans-Canada Highway. The highway will be lowered about eight metres so vehicles can pass under the bridge but Staite said there are no concerns for flooding as engineers have ensured there will be adequate drainage in place.
“There’s lots of work happening and more to come,” Staite said. “Our hope was that by the end of summer we would have free flowing traffic on Highway 1 and have the overall project complete by 2019… the revised schedule is to have free flowing traffic by winter.”
Staite said by winter — or early 2020 — the traffic lights on Highway 1 should be removed and free flowing traffic should be able to move northbound and southbound on the highway. Those trying to make a left turn onto McKenzie Avenue will continue to do so with a traffic light in a slightly different position than where it is now.
By the summer of 2020, the entire project — including the loop ramp, landscaping and transit facilities — is expected to be complete.
The effects of construction are going to be similar to what they are right now, Staite said. Once the signal at McKenzie Avenue is removed, motorists will not see a traffic light until they hit Tillicum Road.
The change in schedule does affect the $85 million budget allocated for the project.
“A delay like this and some unencountered engineering conditions certainly do change (the cost) and that’s why we’re working with a contractor to try to understand what it looks like,” Staite said. “There will be an increased cost, we’re just getting to the bottom line of what that number is.”
The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure will share the new cost of the project in about a month or so, Staite said.
Once the project is complete, the ministry estimates it could save commuters travelling between the West Shore and downtown communities approximately 20 minutes.
“It’s that short term pain but significant long term gain that’s going to give people an opportunity in mornings and afternoons to have a more reliable and efficient commute,” Staite said.