MASSE IN THE NEWS: Road open to private sector

PUBLICATION: The Windsor Star
DATE: 2009.02.05
EDITION: Final
SECTION: News
PAGE: A1 / FRONT
BYLINE: Donald McArthur

Road open to private sector

The province will embrace a public-private partnership to build a border access road and could begin engaging construction consortiums as soon as the spring, according to Infrastructure Ontario.

The road to a new crossing will be taken on by the arm's length Crown corporation as an alternative financing and procurement, or AFP, project, which means the private sector could finance, construct and even maintain the road.

"It will be an AFP project, but the model has not been confirmed," said Paulette den Elzen of Infrastructure Ontario, adding the "Windsor Essex Parkway project would be the first large road project to be delivered using Ontario's AFP process."

That triggers alarm bells for Windsor West MP Brian Masse.

Masse had opposed P3s for crucial public infrastructure projects.

"I don't think that we need to have some consortium from China, Dubai, Russia, Spain or wherever owning public infrastructure in Ontario, especially one that connects our border and is very significant for economic trade," Masse said from Ottawa.

Masse raised the spectre of a toll road and said an international consortium might not be sensitive to local logistical issues when planning and constructing the highway.

It is too early to say what form the AFP would take and whether the private sector would merely finance and build the road or maintain it as well. Infrastructure Ontario will send out a request for qualifications in the spring or summer, said den Elzen.

It is unclear what this development means for the city's GreenLink plan. Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis was said by staff to be too busy with meetings and events to comment on the issue Wednesday.

The magnitude of the project means the successful bidder will likely be a company from outside Canada, said Dwayne Dawson of Smith Contracting, president of the Heavy Construction Association of Windsor. That's amenable to the association as long as local contractors and not just their workers are engaged.

"Our fear as companies in Windsor is that these companies will come in and take our men as opposed to using our companies," said Dawson. "We're trying to encourage the local businesses to share in this work so that when this work is gone the local businesses are still here, strong and moving on."

Masse has also been pushing to ensure there is a local worker mandate attached to the project, which is expected to create, at a minimum, 12,000 person years of direct employment over four years.

Infrastructure Ontario has overseen 22 large projects worth $6 billion since its creation just over two years ago and has relied "extensively" on local contractors and trades for all of them, said den Elzen. The same will hold true for the border access road.

"Bidders will have to provide a strategy for how they plan to use local businesses," said den Elzen. "They have to demonstrate how they're going to use local resources."

Dawson said private sector involvement could yield even more local construction jobs because it would enable the Ministry of Transportation to keep planning and tendering smaller, more traditional road projects on an annual basis.

WHAT IS AN AFP?

According to Infrastructure Ontario, AFP projects are generally "large" and "complex" ones where "the benefits to the public sector of transferring risk to the private sector exceed the costs charged by private sector." As well, AFP projects enable the government to "bring in private-sector expertise, ingenuity and rigour to the process of managing and renewing Ontario's public infrastructure."