Dufferin Construction Co.

The Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) – Canada’s first long-distance, limited-access highway – has had a number of repairs and upgrades since it first opened in 1939 with King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in attendance. A slew of construction projects in recent years has widened most of the QEW from four lanes into a six-lane, cross-section superhighway. Today, only one section remains: a 9.5-kilometer stretch of highway between Toronto and Niagara Falls that travels through the city of St. Catharines, Ontario.

“The area where this particular project passes through carries about 75,000 vehicles per day approaching 100,000 vehicles in the summer months,” says Calvin Curtis, area contracts engineer for the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO). “There is also significant truck traffic, and it’s an important trade corridor, as well. Our objective is to meet capacity, improve operations at a number of interchanges and provide enhanced safety measures such as wider shoulders and improved lighting.”

In 2004, MTO retained Ontario design consultant Morrison Hershfield to assist with the project design. In 2007, it awarded Dufferin Construction Co. of Oakville, Ontario, a $153 million (Canadian) contract to widen the last remaining section of the QEW. Highway Con­struction Inspection based in Barrie, Ontario, was selected to administer the contract on behalf of MTO. Construction began in June 2007 and will be completed in five stages by June 2011.

Working in Winter

The QEW/St. Catharines highway reconstruction project entails replacing four bridges, and widening or rehabilitating three additional bridges. Two of the new bridges are conventional girder and deck structures; another utilizes precast concrete elements with the deck integral with the girders. The fourth new bridge is a post-tension structure featuring a unique design that includes a 54-meter clear span arch. The three bridges undergoing renovations were determined to be structurally sound and only required a deck replacement to accommodate the additional lanes, Curtis says.

In addition, Dufferin Construction is reconfiguring four interchanges, building approximately 8 kilometers of median barrier, cons­tructing 2.5 kilometers of retaining walls and 5.5 kilometers of noise walls to better integrate the highway with nearby commercial and residential neighborhoods. The contractor also is responsible for improvements to the existing automated traffic management system, and upgrades to traffic lighting and landscaping.

According to Curtis, the project is about 90 percent completed. “We’re finishing up late season paving,” he reports. “With winter closing in, we’re in a mode to finish up as much work as possible, and then work will resume in late winter/early spring for a completion in June.” In the past, MTO issued a definitive wintertime shutdown period between December and May. “However, in recent years – and certainly on this project – we pushed that envelope a bit and completed significant portions of work throughout the winter months.”

This is work that is not weather dependent, he explains. “Early in the project, for example, much of the sewer installation was done in the winter months with modified techniques to accommodate the low temperatures,” Curtis says. “Additionally, much of the concrete work was accomplished through the winter months using cold weather concrete techniques. Last winter, in particular, much of the median barrier wall was completed. Also, much of the electrical and lighting work was completed in the winter months.”

Overcoming Obstacles

The largest obstacle from MTO’s perspective was managing traffic throughout the course of the project, Curtis says. “The province had made a commitment to the city of St. Catharines and the regional municipality of Niagara to conduct all of the work in off-peak hours and to maintain traffic on the intersecting city and regional streets throughout the four years of construction,” he notes. “This was inherent in our design and staging of the project. We maintained two lanes in each direction of the QEW through peak hours and only had lane reductions at night and during off-peak hours.”

Taking the traveling public into consideration during the design phase has resulted in fewer complaints during construction. “Over­all, it’s been very favorable,” Curtis says. “We’ve had isolated complaints but, by and large, the community has been very supportive, and the city and regional municipality have been, as well. Generally, people in this area recognize the need for additional capacity on that highway and, in an overall sense, have welcomed the improvements. They’ve been very patient with any disruptions that have occurred.”

Maintaining safety for the crews on site and the public was the highest priority. During the first two stages of the project, Dufferin Construction utilized a moveable temporary barrier to facilitate median storm sewer construction. In addition, a new type of barrier wall system gaining attention in the United States made its debut in Ontario for this project. The type M barrier is a non-proprietary, temporary concrete barrier developed by the Midwest Road Safety Facility to accommodate portions of a highway that are elevated.

“The unique feature about this type M barrier is that it’s fastened to the underlying pavement with a bolt system that resists toppling or sliding upon impact,” Curtis describes. “This project was the first trial installation in the province. I understand some U.S. states, such as New York, have used this before, but we modified it for use here in Ontario.

“We have to tip our hats to some of our colleagues in the United States for this,” he adds. “We were able to implement a speed zone reduction early in the project, and our provincial police reported to us that accident rates were down approximately 25 percent during construction – we believe the reduced speed zone was a contributing factor to that statistic.”

Landmark Project

The QEW/St. Catharines highway reconstruction project was a conventional design/bid/build contract with an advertised tender and a low-bid award. It is the largest project of this type in MTO’s history. According to Curtis, MTO utilizes a prequalification system structured on financial capacity, as well as a performance rating system to find the right general contractor for the job. “Only certain contractors that met a minimum criteria in that rating system had the opportunity to bid on this project,” he remarks.

As one of the largest highway-building contractors in Ontario, Dufferin Construction has a long-term relationship with MTO that spans many decades. “Dufferin is very schedule oriented,” he says. “They are very aggressive in scheduling activities, and yet, at the same time, ensuring the quality of the product. Dufferin looked for opportunities to improve certain aspects of the work they’ve proposed, and MTO accepted four change proposals over the course of the project that have resulted in both time savings and cost savings to the province.”

During design, consideration was given to tender the QEW/St. Catharines highway reconstruction project as three smaller projects, but the Ministry of Transportation opted to issue one large contract, which was awarded to Dufferin Construction. “In hindsight, that was a good decision, and I believe it contributed to the timely delivery of the project,” Curtis says.

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