The good news is that Calgary construction and infrastructure is rebounding from the two years of pandemic speedbumps and delays and is regaining its momentum.
The not-so-good news, now that the pandemic issues are mostly in the rearview mirror, is that moving forward into 2022 and 2023, Calgary construction and infrastructure is dealing with other speedbumps: from shrivelled provincial funding to a shortage of trades, craft workers and construction supervisors.
Overall, Alberta municipalities and infrastructure construction companies ranged from underwhelmed to disappointed by the recent Alberta budget’s infrastructure funding. The bottom line: Calgary and municipalities across Alberta will have less money to spend on their own capital projects this year, as the provincial government’s 2022 budget makes good on promised cuts to the grants cities and towns use to build and restore infrastructure.
Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek is on-record that, while there’s some good news for the city in the 2022 budget, Calgary did not get its fair share of municipal investment and only modest provincial funding for downtown revitalization.
There’s no doubt about it. The past two years of pandemic lockdowns and disruptions directly or indirectly affected Calgary’s infrastructure construction. “There have been three main impacts of COVID,” says the knowledgeable Jayson Veldhoen, district manager, Civil Infrastructure at Graham Construction. With headquarters in Calgary and offices throughout North America and annual revenues exceeding $4 billion, Graham is one of the leading, fully-integrated construction companies in North America.
“First, there was a reduction in spending in the first eight months of COVID caused by general uncertainty, and economic lockdowns reduced revenue for all levels of government. The low oil prices at the time also contributed to fewer royalty revenues. This slow-down abated as we moved through 2021 and governments implemented infrastructure spending as a value-added way to stimulate the economy. Unplanned funding from the province was injected into the large municipalities, and investment on highways was held relatively constant when the industry was anticipating a reduction” he says. “Municipal coffers are still in recovery across Alberta and there is a reduction in smaller projects typically funded on an annual basis – by municipalities.”
PCL is another major cog in Calgary infrastructure and construction development. “Infrastructure projects enable businesses to create employment opportunities, both during construction but also during the infrastructures operating lifecycle,” notes Alistair McKnight, PCL’s district manager for Southern Alberta. “They help support local communities, local businesses and, of course, offer opportunities in many cases for the public to enjoy the facility. There are many tangible gains with infrastructure, such as stimulating economic growth, the attraction of investment, and generation of positive community benefits.
Graham’s Jayson Veldhoen is positive and enthusiastic about a rebound of infrastructure construction in Calgary. The market is actually fairly tight due to shortages of Alberta trade and craft workers and construction supervisors. Some of the shortages are due to many people going back to their home provinces during the early 2020 slow-downs and not yet returned to their construction careers in Alberta.
“Another reason for worker shortage is Alberta’s construction contractors are often geographically diversified with mobile employees and contractors have found busy markets for their staff and craft in the other Provinces from B.C. to Ontario and places in between. While there is a return of infrastructure construction in Calgary, the market is actually fairly tight because of the Alberta worker shortages.”
Veldhoen highlights one COVID-related broadside for infrastructure construction. “The supply of construction materials and facility equipment has been significantly disrupted by the pandemic. And this challenge persists. With COVID-19 outbreaks still affecting production of goods in China, and the destabilization of global commodity prices due to Russia’s War on Ukraine, we are going to continue to face disruption to supply and heightened risk for the foreseeable future.”
Graham is vital in Calgary’s infrastructure construction sector and ‘building Calgary.’ Like the completion of the Southwest Calgary Ring Road project, the company is now working on the design and construction of the south portion of the West Calgary Ring Road – the final piece of Alberta Transportation’s ring road projects. Graham is building a new interchange on Stoney Trail in NE, to provide access to new land development activities for housing growth and continues work on the expansion of the Bonnybrook Wastewater Treatment Plant.
The Calgary-based company recently completed the rehabilitation of the Fifth Avenue Flyover leading out of downtown Calgary and on to Memorial Drive/Edmonton Trail, as well as completion of the Shaganappi Pump Station, planning to engage in additional potable water opportunities with the City later this year. Graham is also currently working on the Downtown Flood Protection Barrier construction along the south bank of the Bow River and bidding the Deerfoot Trail upgrades for Alberta Transportation.
In addition to the massive $1.4 billion Calgary Cancer Centre, the state-of-the-art facility at the Foothills Medical Centre scheduled for completion next year, PCL is working on the BMO Centre at Stampede Park (the $500-million/560,000-sq.-ft. mega project expansion). Set for a 2024 completion, it will be a key component of the Rivers District Master Plan. A critical step establishing Calgary’s culture and entertainment district, the BMO Centre will be the largest convention centre in western Canada.
PCL’s Calgary schedule also includes the Travers Solar project. Due for completion this year, it will be the largest solar project in Canada, having employed more than 830 people on site, covering 3,300 acres and providing clean renewable energy electricity for approximately 100,000 homes annually.
The city’s To-Do List includes $29 million worth of various major paving projects (officially called “road rehabilitation”) including Shaganappi Trail NW from 40 Avenue to Northland Drive, Varsity Drive and Viscount Drive; Crowchild Trail SW from Bow Trail to 24 Street and 50 Avenue to 54 Avenue; 14 Street SW from Southland Drive to Anderson Road; as well as expansion joint replacements on several bridges and bridge rehabilitation at 6 Avenue/University Drive, the Hextall Pedestrian Bridge and at McKnight Boulevard/1A Street pedestrian bridge.
Despite the positivity and rebounding momentum, McKnight notes that Calgary’s infrastructure momentum is not smooth sailing. “One of the biggest challenges our industry faces can be the continuity of new projects for the supply chain. In Calgary, the fluctuation of the various sectors within construction makes it difficult to plan the resources needed. If more infrastructure investment was consistent, the industry would have the ability to improve the use of innovation and invest more in training, and it would drive lower construction costs, which is great for the consumer. With increasing construction costs comes the risk of projects being cancelled, deferred or reduced, which does not allow for the maximum benefit of infrastructure construction.”
Graham’s Veldhoen is upbeat and positive about Calgary infrastructure construction but also urges factors that would make things even better. “While there was a decrease in contracting activity in 2020 due to COVID, contracting levels have been rising steadily over the last 16 months. It is busier than it was pre-COVID, particularly in the civil infrastructure sector. Encouraging more people, particularly skilled trades, to move to the province would help alleviate some of the pressure caused by the shortage.
“As a North American company,” he says, Graham is fortunate in being able to level workloads by using employees from other geographical regions to manage its Alberta-based projects. Encouraging more women and secondary school students to explore careers in the trades will also help fill the pipeline as more Baby Boomers consider retirement. Graham supports numerous programs like Women Building Futures and Careers the Next Generation that do just that.”