After years of sliding milestones and questionable costing for the Team Gushue Highway extension project, the province’s new Liberal government is facing a continuation of the same.
Contacted this week, the government was not able to clarify when the project might be finished, given a new issue arising in construction.
The Telegram contacted the Department of Transportation and Works Monday afternoon about the would-be artery road, asking about briefing materials compiled by departmental staff in mid-December 2015. The “informational note” was approved by the deputy minister and released online in January, after an access to information request.
It states tenders for the Team Gushue Highway await the resolution of a stormwater retention “issue” — a back and forth with the City of St. John’s on a city policy.
The document states the highway is set to be completed in 2017, versus the original 2014 finish date or even the later promise of blacktop in 2015.
But an interview request to confirm the new timeline and clarify the issue with the City of St. John’s was turned down.
“The approved construction budget remains $45 million,” read the reply from a provincial spokeswoman, stating minister Al Hawkins’ schedule was blocked.
On the stormwater issue, the response noted the province is waiting to hear from the city on its requirements.
Coun. Danny Breen, chairman of the city’s public works committee, was reached by phone Monday and said work is ongoing to bring the highway project in line with the city’s stormwater detention policy, introduced Jan. 1, 2013.
He guessed both the city and the province were aware of the stormwater issue for at least the past year.
Construction on the Team Gushue Highway extension began in 2011-12, before the city policy was introduced. But Breen said the city made it clear stormwater detention ponds were expected to handle runoff from the new highway.
“They didn’t have it in their budget (to build retention ponds), so we gave them some suggestions of how they could do it through other means,” Breen said.
As it stands, the city is volunteering survey work and a hydrological study at the construction area this spring. The study will require at least eight weeks to complete, with detailed modelling. Decisions will then be made based on the data.
Breen said the city is maintaining the position that, until an approach to the existing stormwater issue is agreed upon, built and operational, pavement will not cover the Blackmarsh Road to Topsail Road drive.
“I don’t know if it’ll be that significant,” he said, when asked about the timeline and cost of the project.
He said that not meeting the policy also held potential for big bills in future for taxpayers, even individual residents, given the city’s past experiences.
Plus, given that the city is taking over the long-term maintenance and upkeep of the road, liability is a concern.
“This is not the only thing delaying the road,” he said.
Since its beginning, the highway project has reportedly been troubled with poor weather, failure to obtain Department of Fisheries and Oceans permits for construction in a timely manner and land acquisition issues.
At present, an overpass at Blackmarsh Road is under construction, with two more bridge structures to be tendered.
The entire project was 63 per cent complete as of the mid-December update.