Deh Cho Bridge

Deh Cho Bridge
Deh Cho Bridge
Official name Deh Cho Bridge
Carries 2 lanes of Highway 3
Crosses Mackenzie River
Locale Fort Providence
Owner Government of the Northwest Territories
Total length 1.1 km (1 mi)
Longest span 190 m (623 ft)
Number of spans 9
Piers in water 8
Design life 75 years
Construction begin June 2008
Construction cost construction budget C$182 million
Opened (tentative date early fall 2012)
Coordinates 61°15′45″N 117°31′30″W / 61.2625°N 117.525°W / 61.2625; -117.525Coordinates: 61°15′45″N 117°31′30″W / 61.2625°N 117.525°W / 61.2625; -117.525

The Deh Cho Bridge, currently under construction since 2008, will be a 1.1 km (0.68 mi) bridge across a 1.6 km (0.99 mi) span of the Mackenzie River on Highway 3 near Fort Providence, Northwest Territories, Canada. Although difficulties have been encountered during construction, it is currently anticipated to be open to traffic by early fall of 2012.



NWT Highway 3 (or the Yellowknife Highway) must cross over a kilometre of open water on the Mackenzie River south of Fort Providence, with no bridge at this location. Historically, a seasonal ferry service has been provided (roughly mid-May until December or January), with an ice road maintained across the frozen river from December to April. During the spring "breakup" season, due to hazards from floating or jammed ice there is a 3-4 week period (from mid-April to mid-May) between the closing of the ice road and the start of ferry service. No vehicles can cross during this period, and supplies for Yellowknife and other highway communities north of the river must either be relayed across by helicopter, sent by air freight, or wait until ferry operations begin. A similar but shorter "freezeup" period used to occur in December/January between the end of ferry operations and the opening of the ice road, but since the early 1980s ferry operations have generally been able to extend until the ice road is open.

This closing of the crossing creates added transportation inconveniences and costs for residents north of the river, especially for perishable items such as food. A bridge has been of interest since the highway was opened, but various proposals for a bridge had difficulty establishing financial feasibility given the limited traffic volumes and the estimated construction and maintenance costs involved.

DCBC Proposal

Initial proposal and development

The bridge from the north or Fort Providence side of the Mackenzie River in July 2011

In 2002 the Fort Providence Combined Council Alliance (composed of the area's Dene, Metis and Fort Providence leaders) indicated it would pursue a proposal to build a bridge, and a Memorandum of Intent was drafted between the Alliance and the GNWT. The Deh Cho Bridge Corporation (DCBC) was incorporated, and presented a proposal to the Government of the NWT to finance and build the bridge as a public–private partnership. The DCBC would arrange financing, construction and operation of the bridge, which would be leased back to the GNWT for a period of 35 years, in return for annual payments and the proceeds of a toll on commercial vehicle traffic crossing the bridge. After the lease period, ownership of the bridge would revert to the GNWT.

A feasibility study was commissioned, traffic analysis done[1], and a cost-benefit analysis study[2] based on this was undertaken for the GNWT during 2002-2003. Capital construction costs were estimated at $55 million.

The GNWT passed enabling legislation (the Deh Cho Bridge Act[3] ) in June 2003, allowing it to enter into concession agreements for a bridge. The DCBC obtained a $3 million funding commitment from the federal Indian and Northern Affairs Canada department in 2004, and initially hoped to complete agreements with the GNWT and begin construction in that year.

However, the bridge proposal required regulatory review from the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board, which was finalized in March 2005. Requirements for final engineering and financial plans further delayed a concession agreement with the GNWT. Tenders in 2005 and 2006 did not produce any offers at a suitable price. These delays also resulted in less than half of the $3 million federal contribution being obtained, as the remaining funding expired.

By 2007, citing inflationary increases in infrastructure construction costs, the proposed capital costs had risen to $165 million.[4] This necessitated similar scale increases in the proposed annual payments from the GNWT to the DCBC over the life of the agreement to keep the project financially viable.

Concession Agreement

After lengthy negotiation, in 2007 public statements by the GNWT and others indicated that final agreements were close with the DCBC. A ceremonial celebration occurred in Fort Providence in August 2007[5] to mark the decision to proceed.

On September 28, 2007, the GNWT entered into the Deh Cho Bridge Project Concession Agreement with the DCBC. Further amendments were made February 22, 2008, although the document was not made public until after that time.

In 2010 the DCBC was declared in default by its lenders, the project was taken over by the GNWT, and the Concession Agreement was terminated.

Proposed tolls

The bridge from the middle of the Mackenzie River in July 2011

The Deh Cho Bridge Act includes provision for tolls, the anticipated levels of which were laid out in the (now terminated) Concession Agreement[6]. Tolls will only be charged to commercial vehicles; private vehicle traffic will not pay any toll.

The toll rates are defined for three types of commercial vehicles based on the number of axles. A basic rate for "tractor-trains" of 7 axles or more is defined, with "tractor-trailers" of 4-6 axles paying 60% of this rate, and "straight trucks" with 2-3 axles paying 25%.

The formula for the rates is based on inflation adjustments on the completion of the bridge, but based on 2010 data the full tractor-train rate will be about $275 on opening.


The original design was completed by JR Spronken and Associates Ltd. of Calgary in 2002. Following the GNWT's independent review, performed by its consultants BPTEC of Edmonton and T. Y. Lin International of San Francisco, recommendations for changes to the superstructure design were made. Infinity Engineering Group[7] of Vancouver carried out the redesign and is now the design engineer firm on the project.

Infinity Engineering Group's project description says:

The superstructure is a two lane, nine-span composite steel truss bridge with a cable assisted main span of 190 m.[8] The approach spans are symmetrical about the centre of the bridge and have successive lengths of 90 m, 112.5 m, 112.5 m and 112.5 m. The total length of the bridge is 1,045 m. The superstructure consists of two 4.5 m deep Warren trusses with a transverse spacing of 7.32 m and a 235 mm thick precast composite deck. The truss members are built up I-sections. Two A-pylons, located at Pier IV South and Pier IV North, each support two cable planes. Each cable plane consists of six cables that are connected to the main truss through an outrigger system.[7]


Actual construction began in June 2008[9], with an opening date then estimated as late 2010. Work was completed on the approaches and support piers, although the final approved designs for the superstructure were not yet complete. The four piers on the south side were put in place in 2008, and the four northern piers during 2009.

Delay and redesign

During final approval of the bridge plans by the GNWT and its outside technical advisor's, inadequacies relating to the design of the superstructure were discovered. A delay in the construction schedule to allow for investigation of design changes was announced, and the opening date pushed back by a year to late 2011.

General contractor terminated

As of December 30, 2009, Atcon Construction's role as general contractor for bridge construction was terminated by the DCBC[10] [11]. It was announced that an agreement could not be reached on a price for the revised superstructure. Atcon Construction (as well as a number of other companies in the Atcon Group) were placed in bankruptcy receivership in March 2010;[12] Atcon has pending claims from its work on the bridge of up to $20 million[13]. These, as well as its equity position in the corporation (nominally $2 million, although it may not have been fully funded at the time[14]), remain a subject of termination negotiations, and are still to be resolved.

Announcement of cost increase

On February 12, 2010, the GNWT announced that costs associated with the redesign and delay had increased the costs of the bridge by at least $15 million, to $182 million[15]. The GNWT also announced it would take over project management from the DCBC.

On February 26, 2010 the NWT Legislature approved $15 million in additional construction funding to cover the increased costs. On March 3, the GNWT announced its new construction and management team, which included existing contractor Ruskin Construction as the new general contractor, and Associated Engineering as project management.[16]

Reversion to the GNWT

On March 8, 2010, the GNWT announced that it would seek the necessary authority to assume the assets and debt of the Deh Cho Bridge Corporation. This would place the responsibility for debt management with the GNWT. Previously the debt had been nominally listed in the government's consolidated accounts, as it was the ultimate guarantor, but the amounts were not part of the government's debt for purposes of calculating its authorized borrowing limits. As this total "debt ceiling" limit is currently set at $500 million by agreement with the federal government, incorporating the bridge debt became a significant issue.[17]

The NWT Legislature was specially recalled and met from March 23-25th to discuss the bridge. Legislation[18] was passed to assume the debt and associated responsibilities to the lenders. The Assembly also passed a motion recommending that the Auditor General of Canada be requested to undertake a special audit of the project. Auditor General Sheila Fraser agreed to do so, and the audit was submitted to the Assembly in March 2011.

In June, an understanding (known as the Transition Letter[19]) was signed betwern the GNWT and the DCBC, providing for the termination of the concession agreement, and the transfer of the bridge, contracts, and most assets to the GNWT.

In a separate Community Opportunities and Involvement Agreement[20] the GNWT undertook to provide $8,000 per month through March 2012 (a total of $167,000) to promote community involvement in the bridge project. From 2012, an annual $200,000 grant will be paid for 35 years (a total of $35 million) for projects to provide community benefits and economic opportunities related to the bridge. The 35 year period is that of the original concession agreement, and the payments provide a replacement for the equity return it would have generated.

Also in June, the former project developer, Andrew Gamble, and the former project engineer, Jivko Jivkov, filed suit against the DCBC corporation, claiming CAD$534,000 and $818,000, respectively. The Transition Letter provides that the GNWT will provide the legal defense against these claims. The DCBC, however is responsible for any settlement amounts; the plaintiffs have also requested that the GNWT be prevented from transferring assets from the DCBC. The lawsuits were withdrawn when lawyers for the two parties agreed to an arbitrator and to agree jointly on the timing for consideration of the transferring assets matter. The parties reached a confidential settlement in March 2011 for what the government described as "...well below the amount that was claimed...".[21]

Additional delay to 2012

Late steel shipments from Structal-Bridges of Quebec in the fall of 2010 caused delays in installing trusses on the south side of the bridge, which had been scheduled to have been finished by March 2011. This will result in deck panels not being finished until October, at which time temperatures will be too low to cover them in concrete. This, along with paving and other final work, will need to be done in 2012, requiring additional ferry and ice bridge operations until then.[22] The estimated opening date is now "early fall 2012".[23]

Cost and Financing

The original construction budget was $169 million. This was mainly financed by the issuance in 2008 of $165.4 million in inflation-linked real return bonds, paying 3.17% plus inflation adjustment. The bonds will be repaid over a 35-year period from December 2011 (interest only was paid from 2008). This will amount to approximately $275 million in principal and interest costs over the 35 years, before the inflation adjustments.

With the construction difficulties that caused the GNWT to assume control of the project, another $15.9 million in financing was required, which was provided by the government. This brought the construction budget to $182 million.

Some items are not included in the construction budget, including costs for building toll plazas and other toll infrastructure, compensation for lost fish habitat, and environmental remediation. Various costs associated with delays or other construction claims will need to be negotiated and may result in additional costs beyond the budget.

The most recent delay to 2012 in opening the bridge will increase the costs to the GNWT, as many months of anticipated tolls (including the 2012 mine-resupply traffic) may not be collected. There will also be additional costs if the ice crossing is required for the winter of 2011-12, and if ferry service is required in 2012.

Once built, annual costs to the GNWT will include principal and interest repayment, toll collection, bridge maintenance, and the Opportunities grant to Fort Providence community groups. The government will apply the estimated $3 million annual savings in ferry costs, but is anticipating a further subsidy requirement of around $2 million annually, depending on traffic volumes.


Levelton Report

After taking over responsibility for the project, the GNWT and its project management team (Associated Engineering) commissioned an audit of the Phase 1 construction work (that carried out before April 1, 2010). The report was completed in November 2010, and released to the public in January 2011. Levelton found a number of issues related to design responsibility, quality control and construction, which the GNWT has or is in the process of addressing.

Auditor General's Report

Looking towards the south side of the river with the Merv Hardie ferry in view

In March 2010 the NWT Legislative Assembly requested that the Auditor General of Canada conduct a special audit of the GNWT's risk management of the project and the public-private partnership undertaking. The report was made public in March 2011. The audit did not cover any private sector organizations, such as the Deh Cho Bridge Corporation or its contractors. Some key findings of the report include:

  • "The project was not a public-private partnership. The Concession Agreement assigned most of the project risks to the GNWT and did not shift any significant risk to the private sector; risk sharing was anticipated when a P3 procurement strategy was selected."
  • "Despite unresolved design issues between the Department and the Corporation, the GNWT authorized bridge construction to begin without having the assurance of a fully developed design. As a result, the risk to the project was significantly increased. Ultimately the inability to resolve design issues within the specified time frame resulted in the lenders declaring the Corporation to be in default and requesting the GNWT to assume the project debt."
  • "...a risk that the traffic availability date of November 2011 will not be met...a risk that the project could require more resources than those that had been approved."

See also


  1. ^ PROLOG Canada. Commercial Vehicle Traffic Forecast , September 2002.
  2. ^ Nichols Applied Management. Benefit Cost Analysis, February 2003.
  3. ^ "Deh Cho Bridge Act". , S.N.W.T. 2003,c.10. 
  4. ^ Nichols Applied Management. Benefits-Cost Analysis Update, December 2007.
  5. ^ "Fort Providence Celebrates Decision to Proceed with Deh Cho Bridge", GNWT Press Release, August 24, 2007
  6. ^ Toll System Protocol, Supply & Management Agreement - Schedule 11 of the Concession Agreement
  7. ^ a b Deh Cho Bridge at Infinity Engineering Group
  8. ^ Main span - 190 m (620 ft)
    Approach spans - 90 m (300 ft), 112.5 m (369 ft)
    Total length - 1,045 m (3,428 ft)
    Warren truss depth - 4.5 m (15 ft)
    Transverse spacing - 7.32 m (24.0 ft)
    Deck - 235 mm (9.3 in)
  9. ^ "Construction underway on N.W.T. bridge over Mackenzie River", CBC News, July 9, 2008
  10. ^ "Deh Cho Bridge without builder"
  11. ^ Atcon out of N.W.T. bridge project
  12. ^ Certificate of Appointment for the Bankruptcy of Atcon Construction Inc.
  13. ^ "N.W.T. bridge ex-officials go to court", CBC News, July 7, 2010.
  14. ^ Livingstone, Andrew. "Deh Cho Bridge without builder", Northern News Services, January 8, 2010
  15. ^ "N.W.T. bridge $15M over budget", CBC News, February 12, 2010.
  16. ^ "New Deh Cho Bridge plans unveiled", CBC News, March 4, 2010.
  17. ^ "Deh Cho Bridge focus of N.W.T. emergency session", CBC News, March 9, 2010.
  18. ^ NWT Bill 6-16(5) - not yet posted electronically.
  19. ^ Transition letter between GNWT and DCBC
  20. ^ Community Opportunities and Involvement Agreement June 2010.
  21. ^ "NWT settles Deh Cho Bridge lawsuit". CBC News. 7 March 2011. Retrieved 10 July 2011. 
  22. ^ Thompson, Roxanna (19 May 2011). "Deh Cho Bridge completion date delayed". Northern News Services. Retrieved 10 July 2011. 
  23. ^ Vela, Thandie (22 August 2011). "Deh Cho Bridge expected to be finished by fall 2012". Northern News Services. Retrieved 29 August 2011. 

External links

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