The Deh Cho Bridge Project

The_Deh_Cho_Bridge_Project_892855099
Supporting the people of the NWT
Three years ago, the Minister of Transportation for the Northwest Territories (NWT) signed a Concession Agreement with the Deh Cho Bridge Commission (DCBC) to design, construct, finance and operate a cablestay bridge across the Mackenzie River near Fort Providence on NWT Highway 3. Cablestay bridges consist of one or more columns or towers, and have cables converting the bridge deck. 
The government in the NWT intends for the bridge to replace the operations of the Merv Hardie Ferry and the Mackenzie River Ice Crossing which are currently in operation. Construction is underway, with the bridge at 50 per cent complete, so overall, things are going well. At a budget of $182 million, the bridge will offer significant benefits to the people of the NWT. 
The project
The bridge is expected to be completed in the fall of 2011, and will, according to public reports, “eliminate lengthy and uncertain disruptions during winter freeze-up and in the spring during break-up” that happens in the north every year. 
The 1.045 kilometre (0.65 mile) bridge will replace an overburdened Ferry system, which often sees many mechanical issues that takes days to fix—leaving travellers stranded unexpectedly. This particular crossing is also susceptible to temporary closures for maintenance, all which will be solved once the bridge opens. It will be all-weather, and fit for residents and visitors alike to have safe, reliable passage.  
There are several critical partners in the construction of the bridge. The Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT), community partners Deh Gah Got’ie First Nation, Fort Providence Métis Council, and Hamlet of Fort Providence, as well as the project design and build parties are essential pieces in the Deh Cho mosaic. 
The bridge, which will be financed by the savings from the elimination of the ferry and ice bridge operation, will also be contributed an $2 million annually (inflating) from the GNWT, as well as a toll on commercial vehicles crossing the bridge. It is important to note that an infrastructure project of this size must have all partners on board, and often this takes time. For a history of the lead-up to the project, see aside. 
Infinity Engineering is the Designer of Record Final, and was responsible for the overall strategic design of the bridge. See sidebar for innovative design aspects of the bridge. Atcon Construction was brought in to do Phase 1 work, but is not part of Phase 2. Instead, Ruskin Construction negotiated a contract to complete the bridges, and according to sources, with all of these key parties in place, the “November 2011 completion date target is therefore achievable, and risks associated with the project have been greatly reduced.”
Benefits of the Bridge
According to reports on the Deh Cho bridge project, it is “a valuable economic development and infrastructure project that will benefit the residents of the NWT for many decades to come.” Not only will the bridge benefit NWT residents after it’s completed, but during construction, people in the region will benefit from many new economic activities. In addition, costs of living for northern residents will decrease and there is more likelihood for investors to come in—with infrastructure having changed drastically.    
Another benefit will come to the trucking industry, that will see reduced costs for business in the North Slave Region. Commercial carriers can operate year round, and competition will increase. 
According to the GNWT Ministry of Transportation, the bridge has decreased the need for maintenance compared to the existing ferry and ice crossings, and has many fewer environmental and safety risks: “The ice crossing must be constructed each year and normally lasts for about 3-4 months before it closes to travel.
 
 Operating the ferry comes with the risk of fuel spills, idling vehicles, and the need for approximately half of a million litres of oil. These factors will be greatly reduced with the fixed bridge, and the elimination of the need to fuel ferry operations will help the GNWT meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets.”
A real community partnership
Construction of the bridge really points to a commitment to a successful working relationship between all partners involved. According to reports, “the GNWT expects to continue a productive working relationship with the community of Fort Providence on opportunities arising from the Deh Cho Bridge throughout its 75-100 year expected lifespan.”
Through the bridge project, the community will receive a grant of $8000 per month during construction to promote community involvement, and a grant of $200,000 per year (totalling  $7 million over 35 years) during operation of the bridge in order “to create community benefits and economic opportunities related to the bridge.”
GNWT, who are the ultimate owners of the bridge, will use its own force operations, which should reduce administration costs and insurance premiums. 
Deh Cho Bridge timeline….
The construction of a bridge to span the Mackenzie River near Fort Providence was originally considered in the late 1950s, when the Government of Canada commissioned a report that indicated the cost of a bridge would be $6.2 million ($48 million in 2010 dollars). 
By 1975, that cost had risen to an estimate of between $25 and $30 million ($103 million to $124 million in 2010 dollars).
In 2000, the Fort Providence Combined Council Alliance, presented the government with a proposal for a partnership to construct a bridge across the Mackenzie River. 
A feasibility study was completed in February 2002, which showed the economic benefits of a bridge to replace the ferry system.
A concession was proposed giving DCBC the right to design, construct, and maintain the Deh Cho Bridge for a period of 35 years, after which the bridge would be transferred to the GNWT.
In November 2002, the GNWT signed a Memorandum of Intent with the Fort Providence Combined Council Alliance for the construction of the Deh Cho Bridge. MLAs conducted public hearings in Fort Providence, Behchoko, and Yellowknife on the proposal, and there was widespread public support.
In June 2003, the Deh Cho Bridge Act was passed, which authorized the Minister of Transportation to enter into a Concession Agreement for the Deh Cho Bridge project. The proposal went through the environmental assessment and regulatory process in 2004, with no significant environmental issues identified.
 
In March 2005, the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs accepted the Report of the environmental assessment for the Deh Cho Bridge.  By July, 2005, DCBC was issued a water licence and land use permit for the construction of the bridge.  
A Navigable Waters Protection Act approval was issued in October 2005.
In March 2007, the GNWT made a commitment to provide a $2 million annual subsidy, in addition to its earlier commitments, to move the project forward. 
A community celebration was held on August 24, 2007 to mark the official start of construction.
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