Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) managers are taking a more hands-on role managing many road and bridge projects these days as the ministry responds to scathing criticisms from Ontario’s auditor general two years ago, delegates attending the recent Ontario Road Builders’ Association (ORBA) conference in Toronto were told.
Beyond that, there have been significant reforms to procurement practices introduced for MTO projects in the wake of Bonnie Lysyk’s 2016 report, top MTO executives said.
Road maintenance contracts were torn up and rewritten for the 2017 season and two new delivery models, the contractor-directed maintenance contract (CDMC) and the ministry-directed maintenance contract (MDMC), are replacing one that relied heavily on contractor management.
Additionally, said Kevin Bentley, executive director and chief engineer in MTO’s provincial highways management division, the ministry continues to tinker with roads and bridges procurement.
He explained in an interview the ministry is aiming to fine-tune tenders and procurement models to better reflect local resources and needs, focusing more on finding the right delivery systems based on project size and other unique project characteristics than it used to.
“This is new, this is part of the review that we started in 2016,” said Bentley of the changes to road maintenance contracts.
“We had done our own internal review in 2013, we started to make some changes, then the auditor general came in and published her report and made some recommendations. One of her observations was that we know that we had gone to a one-contract model, where we should really be looking at a variety of different models and different approaches.
“We took that to heart, started a consultation with the industry throughout 2016, and started retendering contracts in 2017 based on the input.”
Maintenance contracts are generally for both winter and summer work and contain such elements of construction as guard rail repair, culvert repair, re-shouldering of highways and minor asphalt repair, Bentley said.
The lesson learned is that we should have different delivery models whether it’s in maintenance or whether it’s in construction
— Kevin Bentley
Ministry of Transportation
In many cases the contractors agreed maintenance contracts were unreasonable, he said, with some contracts so large they required 100 pieces of equipment or more.
Bentley said with the MTO more involved in contract oversight, the ministry becomes a more knowledgeable project owner.
“For our staff to get involved and out and making decisions, we are creating the next group of ministry staff who have knowledge of highway maintenance and winter maintenance,” he said.
As for road and bridge building procurement, Bentley outlined seven different models to the ORBA audience including four categorized as alternative finance and procurement (AFP), for larger projects undertaken with Infrastructure Ontario. Addressing reforms, he said the MTO has recently been contemplating revising the design, build, finance, maintain model for some projects so that the ministry retains the maintenance function.
“The lesson learned is that we should have different delivery models whether it’s in maintenance or whether it’s in construction,” Bentley said.
“There are different models within the AFP world, design, build and finance, design, build, finance and maintain, and then you get down to the more traditional models. We used to be 100-per-cent design, bid, build, but we have added a couple of other models, design, build and construction manager general contractor. Again, the idea is to provide different models and pick the model that’s best for the project.
“We are also looking at some design, build, finance projects, so the maintenance would come back to the ministry afterwards, for various reasons. It’s fitting what is best for that area, so it does not necessarily have to include the 30-year maintenance component.”
The MTO presentation team at the ORBA conference included deputy minister Stephen Rhodes. The presenters updated delegates on 2017 project statistics — there were a total of 206 projects tendered in the 12 months for a total value of $1.822 billion, and a total capital budget of $3.065 billion — and said the business plan for 2018-19 included “another strong highway construction program.” The next roadway infrastructure program will be confirmed in the spring budget.
The ORBA delegates were also told the MTO’s recent commitment to early tendering will continue. From Jan. 1 to March 31, 2018, there are 80 to 90 projects scheduled for tendering, up from 31 in the same period seven years ago.
“That has been a request in the past from ORBA and their members around having as many tenders as possible in the January to March period, so they can better plan their work, and we also believe it provides good competition,” Bentley explained.