Trends in Canada’s Top 100 Projects (and What Didn’t Make the Cut)

ReNew Canada has produced the Top 100 Projects report for the past nine years. The listing of Canada’s 100 biggest projects (ranked by project value) is an industry touchstone—a look at how some of our mega-projects are funded and, perhaps of more interest to our readership, which firms are working on them. A project remains on this list until it’s completed, which means some will continue to rank for a few years—or stick around for decades.

Canada’s Top 100 projects have grown significantly since last year. This year, the country’s 100 largest projects represent a total investment of $157.9 billion, a 12-per-cent increase over 2014’s $140.5 billion. This can be attributed to the addition of multiple big-ticket mega-projects in transportation and energy.

Of the $38.8 billion in transportation projects represented in the list, $12.9 billion is new to 2015, which is far and away the largest monetary increase from last year’s report. This is due to giant Western Canadian road projects currently in the planning stage, such as the $5-billion Southwest Calgary Ring Road (No. 7) in Alberta and the $3-billion George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project (No. 12) from Delta to Richmond, British Columbia. For the Southwest Calgary Ring Road, the land transfer is proceeding, and the government is focusing on the delivery ring road. The province anticipates having shovels in the ground by 2016, and the hope is that the route will be completed by 2020. (The $5-billion figure is based on reported estimates; the true cost of the project will be unreleased until contract estimates
are received.)

The list is dominated by $62.3 billion in energy projects, with hydroelectric generation developments across the entire country claiming the Top 4 spots: Site C in British Columbia ($8.8 billion), Muskrat Falls in Newfoundland and Labrador ($6.99 billion), the Romaine Complex in Quebec ($6.5 billion), and Keeyask in Manitoba ($6.5 billion). Across all energy sectors, the list represents 18,208 MW in new or refurbished generation potential.

There are 25 newcomers to the list, representing a total new investment of $33.1 billion. The driving force behind new growth was $14 billion in transmission developments, which helps bring the power to where it’s needed most. Quebec’s Chamouchouane–Bout-de-l’Île line ($1.35 billion) and Alberta’s Fort McMurray West line ($1.6 billion) were among the five new energy-line developments.

In total, 2015’s Top 100 represents more than 5,800 kilometres of transmission line development, including sub-sea lines.

The year-over-year increase can also be attributed to $2.6 billion worth of carbon capture and storage projects, which represent massive public investments combined with equally significant private cash infusions.

P3 development stable
One quarter of the Top 100 projects are designated as public-private partnerships (P3s), encompassing everything from large transit projects like Ottawa’s $2.1-billion Confederation Line to multimillion-dollar hospital projects like British Columbia’s BC Children & Women’s Hospital/Health Centre Redevelopment and Toronto’s Peel Memorial Centre for Integrated Health and Wellness. In addition, the No. 1 project, Site C, has a significant P3 component: a contract for the project’s work accommodations, a temporary camp located on the north bank of the Peace River.

However, as was mentioned in 2014, the day of big-ticket P3s may be winding down. It became clear during the 22nd annual Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships national conference in Toronto that the trend seemed to be moving toward including smaller-scale municipal projects—such as water and biofuel—under the P3 umbrella. Along these lines, the City of Surrey, British Columbia announced it was moving forward with a P3 to build a new $60-million organics biofuel facility. The budget is dwarfed by the much larger Top 100 projects, but it’s a project of significance: it will be the first closed-loop fully-integrated organics waste management system in North America. Construction is expected to get underway in early 2015, and the facility will be operational by late 2016.

As this shows, the Top 100 doesn’t always take into account projects that may be significant but weren’t considered large enough to place. There were also several mega-projects that didn’t make the cut due to being in the preliminary stages of development.

What follows is a rundown of noteworthy developments from across Canada—big and small.

The Maritimes
Provincially, Newfoundland and Labrador saw increased presence on the list with two new projects, for a total of four, breaking out from only energy developments in 2014 to include transportation (with a $683-million trans-Labrador highway widening and hard surfacing program) and social infrastructure, such as the $588-million new hospital in Corner Brook.

Canada’s East Coast remains a hotbed of hydroelectric potential—some of which is currently being developed, and some that has yet to be harnessed. The 3,000-MW potential of Muskrat Falls and Gull Island makes the lower Churchill River in Labrador the best undeveloped hydroelectric source in North America. Phase 1 of Nalcor Energy’s Lower Churchill project is the Muskrat Falls project, and it’s No. 2 on this year’s Top 100 (after being recorded as two projects in 2014’s list prior to their separate environmental assessment). However, Phase 2 of the project will consist of the development of the 2,250-MW Gull Island generation facility and associated transmission assets, with costs estimated at a staggering $12 billion. Both Nalcor and the province said a development is on the table, although focus has turned to the immediate requirements at Muskrat Falls.

In what could soon land New Brunswick a Top 10 spot, there is talk about a multibillion-dollar refurbishment of the Mactaquac hydroelectric facility northwest of Fredericton. New figures from NB Power put the cost of replacing the station by 2030 as high as $5 billion. The figures are contained in the utility’s filing of its 10-year financial and capital investment plan with the New Brunswick Energy and Utilities Board. It is considering three options, and studies are underway to assess the implications of the options. The utility is expected to recommend a preferred option in 2016, so it’s wait and see for now.

Northern Canada
The $903-million Giant Mine remediation project (No. 54) represents the only Top 100 project from the territories, which is up from no presence in 2014’s list. Giant Mine is an abandoned gold mine in the Northwest Territories, which operated from 1948 until 1999 and is located within Yellowknife. “Through consultation with our partners, the Government of Canada is taking the final step in the environmental assessment process to advance the protection of health and safety, as well as the protection of the environment at the Giant Mine site,” Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister Bernard Valcourt said in a press release. The natural environment is one of Canada’s greatest assets, and the Government of Canada is protecting it through its Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan. Established in 2005 as a 15-year program with a commitment of $3.5 billion, thousands of sites across Canada have been evaluated, and contamination on hundreds of them has been addressed. Highest-priority sites include the Giant Mine along with the Faro Mine in south-central Yukon.

To help boost economic development in Canada’s North, governments are putting money into significant transportation projects. The $299-million, 137-kilometre Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway is one of the largest construction projects ever undertaken by the Northwest Territories and will link the two communities that are currently only served by ice road, barge, and air. This new highway will also help decrease the cost of living in Tuktoyaktuk by enabling goods to be shipped year round by road, increase opportunities for business development, reduce the cost of job-creating on-shore oil and gas exploration, and strengthen Canada’s sovereignty in the North. Construction began in 2014 and is planned to end in 2018. The federal government is contributing up to $200 million toward the project, and the territory is contributing $99 million.

The $298.5-million Iqaluit International Airport will be one of the largest pieces of public infrastructure ever built in Iqaluit, and a major undertaking for the Government of Nunavut. Arctic Infrastructure Limited Partners started work on the new airport complex in June 2014, which includes a new terminal building, expanded aprons for planes to park, new lighting systems, an upgraded runway, and a new combined services building. The project will mean significant job creation, as well as training and economic development opportunities for Iqaluit and Nunavut as a whole. Work is to be completed in 2017.

In August 2014, the Government of Canada also broke ground for its $189-million Canadian High Arctic Research Station in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. The station will be a world-class, multidisciplinary facility that will anchor a year-round research presence in Canada’s Arctic to serve Canada and the world to advance Arctic science and technology issues. Scientists will undertake, support, and promote science and technology research focused on four priority areas: resource development; exercising sovereignty; environmental stewardship and climate change; and strong and healthy communities. EllisDon, in joint venture with NCC Dowland Construction Ltd., was awarded the contract to manage its construction.

British Columbia
British Columbia had the second-strongest showing in the Top 100, with $30.7 billion in investment over 21 projects, with energy projects (nine in total) scooping up a plurality of that. However, there were several wind-energy developments in the works that didn’t make the cut. The $550-million, 300-MW Rocky Creek Wind Project recently fell off the Top 100 list after a change in scope, but it will requalify once it moves ahead with construction. Located about 40 kilometres south of Chetwynd and consisting of a proposed 100 to 130 wind turbine generators, it received approval from the Environmental Assessment Office in April 2013. Rupert Peace Power Corp. continues to work with Treaty 8 First Nations in advancing this project to completion. Additionally, a $1.2-billion Hackney Hills wind project in the Peace Region of northeastern British Columbia is undergoing extensive studies to support an environmental assessment application, after which it will join the Top 100. Subject to the project’s progress, construction is slated to start in 2016.

On the transit side of things, Metro Vancouver transportation authority TransLink worked closely with Coquitlam, New Westminster, and Surrey to review alternatives for rehabilitating or replacing the Pattullo Bridge. The Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation’s $7.5-billion, 10-year transportation vision includes a new $1-billion, four-lane bridge to be designed to accommodate a potential future expansion to six lanes. The vision also consists of a new $2.1-billion light rail transit network in Surrey, 11 new B-Line routes, 400 new buses to increase service by 25 per cent, and an 80-per-cent increase in night bus services. Included is also a $2-billion, 5.1-kilometre underground extension of the SkyTrain Millennium Line. The council is working with the province to prepare for a referendum on these investments and funding sources, anticipated in spring 2015.

Saskatchewan
Among the priorities for Saskatchewan, the province’s 2014-’15 budget includes $665 million to build, operate, and maintain Saskatchewan’s highways and transportation system. A key component of the provincial growth plan is building infrastructure that creates the conditions for future growth. Projects include pre-construction work on the Regina Bypass Project, 19.5 kilometres of twinning Highway 16 from Saskatoon to Clavet, pre-construction work for future passing lanes on Highway 7 for 24 kilometres, and two pilot projects to upgrade obsolete thin membrane surface highways to primary weight supergrids.

On the social-infrastructure side of things, in September 2014, the province began construction of its $109-million, 225-bed Swift Current long-term care centre—the first project to be delivered by the province using the P3 approach. The new facility will be located on a 15-acre parcel adjacent to the regional hospital and will include 21 10-bed houses and one 15-bed house, promoting a home-like environment. Construction is scheduled to be completed by spring 2016. The region will maintain full ownership of the facility and will operate all aspects of the direct care provided within the facility.

In October 2014, Saskatoon city council approved borrowing up to $105 million to build a new civic operations centre in the city’s southwest. The project is expected to cost more than $128 million (not including interest and financing fees), and Phase 1 includes construction of a new Saskatoon Transit operations facility that will relocate the bus barns from Caswell Hill and include the city’s first permanent snow management facility. Construction will begin in 2015 with an anticipated completion of late 2016.

Manitoba
In the 2013 Speech from the Throne, the Government of Manitoba committed to investing the equivalent of the 1 percentage point provincial sales tax increase in core infrastructure, beyond existing levels of provincial infrastructure spending. Combined, the investments will total $5.1 billion over the next five years. An additional $420 million will bring the government’s total core infrastructure investment to $5.5 billion from 2014 to 2018. These include historic investments in Manitoba’s major trade routes; the largest-ever provincial investment ($250 million) to renew and upgrade Winnipeg streets; new infrastructure to support CentrePort Canada including a Trans-Canada Highway bypass at Headingley; and targeted funding of $75 million for municipal roads and bridges, in addition to a $700-million investment in bridges and overpasses provincewide.

While Manitoba gave the green light to the construction of the $6.5-billion Keeyask generating station (No. 4) this year, it suspended planning activities for a second hydroelectric development at the Conawapa site, which had the potential to be a Top 100 project but did not qualify. This proposed $10.2-billion project might be reactivated at a later date—if a strong case can be made.

Alberta
Alberta had a strong showing in the Top 100, with $24.6 billion in investment over 15 projects, up from 11 in 2014—and transportation projects take up $10 billion of those funds.

Edmonton’s Metro Line (North LRT to NAIT) was originally scheduled to open in spring 2014, but the opening was pushed to the end of 2014 because the contractor is taking longer than anticipated to complete the new signalling system. The contractor is making progress, and the city now expects trains to start running on the LRT extension to NAIT in early 2015.

However, the province has placed a strong emphasis on social infrastructure in the coming years. Alberta has $2.6 billion budgeted over the next three years for building, maintaining, and renovating health care facilities, including $974 million for health facility projects in Edson, Grande Prairie, High Prairie, Lethbridge, and Medicine Hat. Additionally, there is $1.8 billion budgeted over the same period for school capital projects to accommodate Alberta’s booming student population.

In the year since the devastating floods of June 2013, Alberta is moving forward on the road to recovery. The budget factors in $859 million over the next three years for flood recovery projects, including more than $700 million for future mitigation projects for schools, health-care facilities, provincial highways, and water management infrastructure.

Ontario
Ontario once again represented the most significant portion of the Top 100, with $45.9 billion in investment over 34 projects, down from 39 in 2014 due mostly to multiple renewable energy projects finishing construction. Transit was the clear frontrunner, with $20.8 billion infused into 12 projects—and there’s still more to come. The Province of Ontario has committed $11.5 billion to begin the implementation of the Greater Toronto Area’s ongoing Big Move transit strategy. With John Tory’s recent election as mayor of Toronto, hopes are high transit development will continue moving forward.

As for transportation, Ontario’s Ministry of Northern Development and Mines continues to expand and improve highways throughout the northern region of the province. Therefore, the government’s investment in the 2014-’15 Northern Highways Program totals $527 million to support projects across the north. For some perspective, Northern Ontario has almost 11,000 kilometres of highway—about 60 per cent of the entire provincial highway network.

Among the priorities is the Ring of Fire, located approximately 540 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, which has mineral potential believed to be worth $60 billion. A February 2014 report from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce revealed that the Ring of Fire is estimated to generate up to $9.4 billion in new economic activity over the first 10 years of operation and sustain 5,500 jobs annually. In its 2014 budget, Ontario committed up to $1 billion toward Ring of Fire infrastructure development. However, plans are being held up by a behind-the-scenes battle, as the province wants the federal government to match their contribution in order to move forward, with not resolution yet in sight. Ottawa has claimed it is not ready to make such a commitment.

Wind energy development continues to move forward, and Pattern Energy Group and the Henvey Inlet First Nation have signed an agreement to develop a 300-MW wind energy project in Parry Sound. Pattern will own a 50-per-cent stake in the joint venture, while Nigig Power Corp. (wholly owned by the Henvey Inlet First Nation) will own the remaining 50 per cent. The two companies will jointly develop, own, and operate the project, which has a 20-year power purchase agreement in place with the Ontario Power Authority. Financing isn’t yet set in stone, but Pattern expects to arrange both construction and long-term debt financing in 2016.

Quebec
Quebec has $29.8 billion in development in this year’s Top 100, with energy and transportation each taking $11.5-billion slices of the pie. Looking to the future, transportation is going to continue to be a major trend—and a politic hot topic. For example, a Government of Quebec plan to expand Montreal’s Highway 19 is being criticized by city councillors and transit spokespeople. The $600-million project—meant to alleviate traffic congestion—would widen the highway to four lanes between the Island of Montreal and Highway 640, on the city’s north shore. It would also build four new interchanges along the path, and a park-and-ride lot in Bois-des-Filion. Opponents of the project believe expanded transit is a more viable solution to congestion issues. The project is now undergoing public consultations.

Montreal’s metro system is also undergoing many potential upgrades—something that has yet to get a green light. Agence métropolitaine de transport (AMT) noted that a planned, $416-million bus-rapid-transit (BRT) system expansion is under study and they are awaiting government approvals to go ahead. This BRT will include two-way dedicated bus lanes in the middle of Montreal’s Pie-IX Boulevard, which accounts for nearly 38,000 daily public transit trips. The 14-kilometre route will cross Laval and Montreal and include 21 stations and three park-and-ride lots.

From 2015 to 2020, the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) will invest $582.5 million to replace stationary equipment as part of Phase IV of its Réno-Systèmes program. The work carried out will involve replacing equipment used to supply, transform, and distribute electrical power to the metro; making more stations universally accessible by retrofitting them with elevators; upgrading the tunnel ventilation system; replacing natural ventilation shafts and pumping stations in tunnels; replacing or adding systems and infrastructure required to control operating processes and operational communications; and replacing track and train-control equipment. This is on the heels of a $350-million Phase III and $247-million Phase II, according to provincial budget statements.

 

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  1. [...] infrastructure projects is growing rapidly – in 2015 alone, Canada’s 100 biggest infrastructure projects represent a total investment of $157.9 billion, a 12-percent increase over the year prior thanks to [...]

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