Every year, the Auditor General, Ms. Bonnie Lysyk, reviews the Ontario government’s performance in providing value-for-money service for the public. In her latest report, an area Ms. Lysyk’s office focused on was Metrolinx, the organization whose mission is “to champion, develop and implement an integrated transportation system for our [Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area] region that enhances prosperity, sustainability and quality of life.” Being a transit enthusiast, I decided to read her findings, and summarize one of the many ways taxpayers money has been mismanaged.
In 1996, Pickering planned to construct a pedestrian bridge over the 14-lanes of North America’s busiest highway: the 401. Fast forward to 2010, and the first spade finally struck in this ground-breaking project, with the completion date set for Fall 2011; ambitious for a government run project. The bridge featured architectural sophistication with LED lighting illuminating the Gateway to Durham; step-aside Golden Gate, your heir to the most photographed bridge in the world looms.
Metrolinx’s plan for erecting the bridge consisted of two stages: a $19 million contract for building the bridge and the stairwell, followed by fitting the external cladding for $8 million. Aplus Contractors had the lowest bid for the first phase. Nothing screams top quality like having A Plus as a name. Still, building a bridge, I mean, how hard can it be? As it turned out, very. Aplus had as much knowledge on building bridges as I have on fixing cars. This was highlighted when Aplus built a truss upside-down. Trusses compose the backbone of a bridge, without which the bridge would crumble. Realizing this incompetence, Metrolinx stepped in and managed the rest of the project; everything from delivery of the trusses, to managing traffic flow during installation. To punish Aplus’ ineptitude, Metrolinx did the unthinkable: they paid Aplus the full $19-million.
Would it make sense to award Aplus the contract for the second phase of the project? Think about it, Metrolinx didn’t. Metrolinx decision is analogous to eating at a 1-star restaurant, suffering from diarrhea later that night, and going back the next day expecting Michelin 3-Star quality food. This time, Aplus only damaged $1 million worth of glass and improperly welded metal. They did such a poor job in not screwing up, Metrolinx decided to terminate their contract, but not before paying Aplus 99% of the $8 million contract. On checking Aplus’ website, I was shocked with the audacity they have in taking credit for building the bridge. Unbelievable! Aplus is like that useless team member who puts in as much effort as the United Nations in maintaining world peace, yet is the first to add his name to the contribution list when a project is submitted.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, I’ll pay you $39 million to fool me four times. In fact, that’s how much Metrolinx paid Aplus to work on another project after the Pickering bridge failure. Do these decision makers at Metrolinx have a sense of financial responsibility? I guess not, seeing as cost overruns come at the expense of the taxpayer. It’s of little surprise that "about half of all construction projects at Metrolinx in the past five years have had cost overruns on average of 23%—for a total of $303 million.” If you think this is infuriating, Metrolinx is just one example of bureaucracy at its finest in the Auditors 800-page report! As for Pickering’s Gateway to Durham, it's 2017 and it is still incomplete; heck, they should just name the bridge Get Over It.