Oversized Load Corridor work could begin as early as next month

Tyler Kula – The Sarnia Observer, July 24, 2019

Apart from a few lifted hydro wires and some others being buried around Plank Road and Highway 40,  Sarnians haven’t seen much work yet on the long-anticipated oversized load corridor.

That’s expected to change as early as next month, said Lyle Johnson, who’s managing the $12-million project for a 27-kilometre route through Sarnia and St. Clair Township, linking manufacturers to the St. Clair River.

The plan, touted as a job creator locally, involves moving hydro wires, putting traffic lights on hinges, replacing culverts, and other intersection upgrades to ultimately make it easier and cheaper for local metal fabricators to ship large industrial vessels and components to customers outside the region.

Bluewater Power is in the midst of completing $150,000 in engineering design work to get a firm handle on expected electrical cost increases “with a few minor line improvements,” Sarnia transportation and development manager Mike Berkvens said.

The planned oversized load corridor through Sarnia and St. Clair Township. (Handout)JPG, SO

Those are largely associated with the Exmouth Street portion of the route, said Johnson, noting the engineering design work should be done by mid-to-late August.

A recent report to council says estimates via a third-party electrical engineer in 2016 didn’t fully account for the number of hydro poles that need to be replaced. There have also been “significant” changes to electrical standards regarding pole strength, guying and underground installation.

But that doesn’t mean the total project cost will increase, Johnson said.

There could be savings, for instance, when it comes to replacing culverts or burying utility lines via planned Plank Road and Blackwell Sideroad reconstruction projects, he said.

“We want to make sure we understand the budget and that council understands the budget,” he said about getting detailed cost estimates. “We don’t want any nasty surprises.”

A $5-million grant application for the estimated $8.1-million Plank Road construction project between Indian Road South and Highway 40 has received a stamp of approval from the province, but still needs the OK federally.

Detailed design work on for the span – included in the oversized load corridor and topping CAA’s list of the worst roads in Southwestern Ontario this year – is expected in 2020.

Wires are being raised in the area to allow oversized loads to skirt around Plank Road in the interim, Johnson said.

Meanwhile, Sarnia, St. Clair Township, the County of Lambton and the Sarnia Lambton Industrial Alliance, which have collectively pledged $6 million towards the project, are continuing efforts to get senior government funding for the rest.

A decision on a recent application to the federal National Trade Corridor Fund is expected within the next few weeks, Berkvens said.

The final $6 million is needed to build a new dock at the end of Exmouth Street that is able to accommodate various cranes for loading and unloading ships, and allowing for trucks to back onto barges, Johnson said.

“We currently cannot do that,” he said.

The first of five phases – tackling Kimball Side Road between Churchill Road and Petrolia Line, and Petrolia Line west to Polymoore Drive at the St. Clair Township industrial park – should be complete by the end of the year, he said.

Bluewater Power and Hydro One are managing the work, he said.

Virtually everything but the new dock – the work for which would be put out for tender – could be done in three years, he said.

“Anything we can do to help eliminate the temporary movement of cables and wires … (so fabricators and local companies) can move their modules from one end of the city to the other, it’s going to be advantageous,” he said.

tkula@postmedia.com

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