Millions of dollars worth of road resurfacing projects set to begin across Toronto this month have been delayed and experts warn putting off the work will cost the city more in the long run.
Staff issued three tenders for local resurfacing work this spring, received bids from six companies, and then cancelled the tenders on Aug. 15, according to documents obtained by CBC Toronto. The projects were to have been spread across all but four wards and represented 20 per cent of the city's road repaving budget for 2022, a city spokesperson said.
The city said it pulled the tenders to update the request to companies and give clearer direction to bidders.Toronto's acting chief procurement officer, Sandra Lisi, said the city hopes to re-issue the tenders this fall with work set to start and finish in 2023.
"Following a review of the bids submitted it was determined that in addition to scope changes that would better meet the city's needs, the tender documents required some amendments to resolve potential ambiguity and to provide clearer direction to bidders," Lisi said in an email.
Lisi said the city reserves the right to cancel tenders and the funding meant for the projects will be allocated to different work this year. She said postponing the projects was not a move to cut costs or an indication there was a problem with any of the contractors slated to do the work.
But the tender cancellation comes several months after the city paused or reduced nearly $300 million in infrastructure projects to help grapple with an $875 million budget shortfall caused by COVID-19 costs.
The documents include a list of wards where the work is to be done but they do not mention any specific streets or roads. Mayor John Tory expressed disappointment that the work would need to be re-tendered. He said with contracts of this size and value, the city needs to have as much confidence as possible in the bids it receives.
"This is a decision made by the city staff who have a duty to administer this process in a way that protects the city and its residents," Tory spokeswoman Lawvin Hadisi said in a statement.
The mayor has made it very clear to staff involved that once these issues are sorted out, this work must get done as soon as possible for the benefit of everyone who uses our roads. - Lawvin Hadisi, spokeswoman for Toronto Mayor John Tory
"The mayor has made it very clear to staff involved that once these issues are sorted out, this work must get done as soon as possible for the benefit of everyone who uses our roads."
Three contractors, A & F Di Carlo, Sanscon Construction Limited and Viola Management Inc., had the lowest bids to do the work, at a cost of approximately $41.6 million, but the contracts were never awarded, according to documents obtained by CBC Toronto.
A potentially costly cancellation
The Canadian Automobile Association of South Central Ontario said this delay, which will mean the roadways won't be repaired ahead of another winter and spring thaw, will likely end up costing the city more in the long run.
"Everyone is dealing with increased prices for things these days," Di Felice said. "The more that a road deteriorates, the higher the cost can be when these get tendered at a later date."
Di Felice said ensuring the work is done correctly, and the tenders are accurate, is important, but many of Toronto's roads are in need of repair.
"We want to make sure that the work that the city does, is done well," she said. "We're hoping that these are prioritized so that they get fixed as soon as possible."
Cancellation 'a little weird,' expert says
Brian Kelcey, an urban policy consultant, said road resurfacing tenders are among the most routine work completed by Canadian municipalities.
"It's a little weird," he said. "I'm honestly surprised that you want to change it in the middle of construction season."
On top of inflationary costs for materials that will rise because of delays, cancelling the tenders could have an impact on contractors who depend on the work. The companies may not be available to take on the projects when the tenders are re-issued, he said.
"Another big factor for the [construction] industry is continuity, they don't see one year of work, they see sequential years of work that keeps their workers employed and keeps their materials flowing," Kelcey said.
"So the moment you start to disrupt tens of millions of road work, it may not look like it upfront, there are always consequences down the road."
Many city residents affected will have received flyers in the mail alerting them to upcoming improvements. The city said it will now send flyers advising the work has been delayed.
According to the city's website, its roadways are made of an asphalt top and concrete bottom. After about 20 years of service, engineers test to see if a new surface is needed.
If resurfacing, which is seen as a preventative measure, is done, the concrete base of the road can last about 50 years, according to the city's website.
"If preventative measures are not undertaken, a road's base might only last 25-30 years."