Brightwater wastewater conveyance

Meet the Experts: A Look at the Owner’s Expectations from Design and Contractor Teams


Metrolinx – Glenn Caverson, Director – AFP Early Works – Capital Projects Group

Metro Vancouver – Mike Jokic P. Eng, Senior Project Engineer

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City of Toronto – Samantha Fraser P. Eng, Simon Hopton P. Eng, Judy Tse P. Eng, Prapan Dave P.Eng

Region of Peel – Andrea Pitura P.Eng, Manager, Capital Works Wastewater Collection and Conveyance

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Trenchless projects are unique and it goes without saying that being an exceptional designer requires different qualities than being an excellent contractor. One of the success elements that always has room for more improvement (regardless of which side you are) is the sharp and clear understanding of the owner’s expectations. This of course directly depends on the level and quality of communication at different phases of the project.

In this edition of Meet the Experts, major owners of active trenchless projects in Canada discuss the qualities they are after in choosing the best teams for projects.

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City of Kawartha Lakes

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What was your overall experience with trenchless projects in the last several years, and how do you see the trenchless market in your area in the future?

Caverson: My experience in the past several years includes managing projects where components of the projects require trenchless technologies. I see the trenchless market in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) continuing to be robust. Factors that influence my prediction include: construction spending in the public and private sectors continues to be strong and is forecasted to continue, aging infrastructure and the challenges inherent when open cutting utility replacements, spatial limitations in rights of way, owner’s desire to mitigate disruption to their services, and the need for safe and environmentally sustainable solutions.

Toronto: The City of Toronto has over 16,600 km of linear underground infrastructure, the majority of which is reaching the end of its service life and requires rehabilitation or replacement. Toronto Water has allocated over $5.5 billion in the next 10 years to replace, rehabilitate and add linear underground infrastructure located across the City. Trenchless methods are preferred where feasible and justified. There is now a good pool of tunnelling contractors in the Greater Toronto Area; however, there are not many qualified microtunnelling, HDD and sliplining contractors, nor are there many qualified in other rehabilitation methods. Based on experience, the cost of trenchless construction and rehabilitation is significantly higher than other North American markets. The City is also investing in several large-diameter tunnelling contracts as a part of the Don & Central Waterfront Program. There is strong interest from both local and international tunneling firms for the large tunnelling projects.

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Pitura: There are numerous trenchless methods being used to install sanitary sewers within the Region of Peel. I see the trenchless market increasing significantly in the future at the Region. Tunnelling reduces the impact to residents and reduces traffic impacts during construction. Trunk sewers in the Region are increasing in size and depth in order to mitigate the effects of climate change, as well as growth within the Region. Trenchless installation is becoming a necessity due to the increase in size and depth of our sewers. The Region’s new wastewater design standards requires that all newly-constructed sewers greater than or equal to 600 mm, as well as maintenance holes, pass a 50-psi pressure test to reduce the amount of inflow and infiltration (I&I) entering the sewer systems, which will help mitigate the effects of climate change. This new design standard limits the one-pass technology that can satisfy this requirement. I would like to see further developments on a one-pass system that can be tested to 50 psi.

Jokic: I recently installed a large-diameter sewer pipe (3-m ID) via microtunnel, and this was the first trenchless project for me as a project manager. The overall experience was fantastic as the project was quite successful. There were a few hiccups, but the consultants and contractor worked together well to resolve the issues and deliver a successful project. I believe the trenchless market in the Lower Mainland will expand steadily as it gets more and more crowded underground, as the technology continues to improve and as costs become more comparable with conventional methods.

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What are your expectations from trenchless design teams, and what are the “extra miles” you would like to see from engineers and consultants before or during the construction period?

Pitura: Good communication between the Region and design teams is paramount for a successful project. I would like the consultant to be driving the project instead of the Region having to ask the consultant for an update. The consultant should anticipate where there could be problems on the project and come up with solutions to mitigate these potential problems in advance. The consultant should strive to meet the deadlines in the project schedule. There always seem to be a big rush toward the end of the project to meet the tender date. The consultant should also understand the process involved with property acquisition and securing permits/approvals from regulatory agencies. It is also beneficial that design teams are knowledgeable about the latest trenchless technologies and capabilities of contractors. The lack in QA/QC of deliverables is becoming a huge problem for the Region as project managers have to spend additional time and effort reviewing documents and drawings before issuing them for tender. The “extra miles” I would like to see from consultants would be for them to take ownership and show that they truly care about the project. It would also be beneficial for consultants to fully engage the experts they present in their proposal.

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Jokic: I expect the design teams to have solid experience with trenchless projects and be able to identify all of the potential risks/challenges involved. The “extra miles” I would like to see from engineers and consultants during construction is innovative thinking when issues arise.

Toronto: The No. 1 claim during underground construction is for differing site conditions. Design teams need to design a robust geotechnical and soil investigation program that minimizes these types of claims during construction. Design teams should consider additional provisional quantities, competitively bid to cover the cost of a wide variety of potential future claims. Municipalities should ensure they include this additional scope in their procurement documents. The design of complex trenchless underground infrastructure requires an excellent understanding of technical challenges and innovation, but also a better understanding of local permitting and approval requirements, timelines, understanding of working in a politically sensitive environment, the ability to plan and coordinate with several projects, thorough constructability review and an excellent project management team is beneficial.

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Caverson: I think the single biggest thing I am looking for from trenchless design teams is innovative solutions to project specific challenges. Metrolinx continues to expand and increase services and it is critical to find solutions that mitigate disruptive impacts to those services. Engineers and consultants who leverage their experience and innovative outlook provide the value-added service we are looking for.

RELATED: Meet the Experts: The Future of Trenchless

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In your experience, what are the characteristics of successful trenchless contractors, and what are the qualities you look for in construction teams for your projects?

Toronto: A successful trenchless contractor must have an engineering team able to prepare high-quality, comprehensive shop drawings in order to reduce risk during construction. The site team, including project manager, superintendent and leads, should make logical decisions and effectively communicate with the project team at large. Contractors need to make themselves aware of the change management processes within a municipality and be able to identify issues and potential changes and delays early, in order to ensure timely resolution. Contractors also need to understand they are working within a thriving city and take into consideration the impacts construction may have on the public, as this is of the utmost importance

Pitura: First of all, successful trenchless contractors must have an unwavering commitment to safety for both staff and the general public. The contractor’s construction schedule should include better resource planning and be realistic. It is frustrating to review a construction schedule where everyone knows the timelines cannot be met. In my opinion, the key to a successful project is for the client, consultant and contractor to work together as a team. Working collaboratively makes negotiating claims and dealing with extras a less combative exercise.

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Caverson: Successful trenchless contractors treat safety as paramount. They bring innovative solutions while valuing timeliness and quality.

Jokic: A successful trenchless contractor should be organized, flexible and innovative. I think the construction team should be good at communicating, be flexible with their methods, cooperative with each other and able to make changes on the fly when needed.

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With regards to trenchless projects, what are your main concerns at the bid/contract stage and what issues you think are critical for the O&M phase?

Jokic: The biggest concern at the bid/contract stage is that we don’t hire the best contractor. The procurement process with government agencies has to be fair and transparent. The technical section of proponents bids/proposals need to thoroughly cover all of the important tasks. Even when we know that a specific contractor is good, and can likely deliver a successful project, they still have to submit an excellent proposal or they won’t win the job.

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Pitura: One of the issues at the bid stage is that contractors are not submitting questions noting their concerns regarding inconsistencies or potential risks in the contract documents or drawings. Also, it’s hard to find a balance between providing the contractor a base for bidding, but not being too prescriptive and not allowing the contractor enough freedom to use their own means and methods of constructing the temporary systems. Proper knowledge transfer of the operations of the system from the consultant to the Region’s operations team is essential so that the system can operate as intended. As sewers are being constructed deeper and deeper, O&M is extremely important as the Region’s operators need to be able to operate the system. This issue really starts at the design phase by completing the necessary risk assessment for operation and maintenance of the asset being constructed (how will staff enter, are stairs required, or will they just be an obstruction, etc.).

Caverson: My main concerns at the bid/contract stage are: heeding technical advice and implementing commercially sound principles in the agreement, providing performance-based requirements and flexibility to drive innovative and cost-effective solutions, creating a fair and competitive atmosphere, and ensuring appropriate due diligence is completed to enable good bids. I think a well thought out and implemented commissioning and hand over plan is essential to a successful O&M phase.

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Toronto: At the bid/contract stage, our main concerns include: underbidding, increasing the awareness (amongst contractors) of underground construction opportunities in Toronto. For O&M early involvement and input during design is key to ensure the infrastructure meets safety requirements and it can be easily accessed for future inspection and maintenance.

Keivan Rafie Meet the Experts is a biannual feature in Trenchless Technology Canada that is written by Keivan Rafie, P.Eng, PMP, ENV SP, PE, CDT, lead tunnel engineer at Stantec. The features include leaders in the trenchless field discussing a variety of issues and challenges facing the industry in Canada.

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