Meet the local companies digging out Ottawa's LRT tunnel

While crews constructing the tunnel that will bring light rail to the city are exploring uncharted territory underneath downtown Ottawa, DST Consulting Engineers is discovering new expertise it hopes will further reinforce its reputation.

The Ottawa-based company is one of several firms with a significant local presence finding work on the $2.1-billion project the city is billing as the biggest construction undertaking since the creation of the Rideau Canal close to 200 years ago.

Work on a major part of the project, the 2.5-kilometre tunnel that will take commuters beneath the city’s downtown, started this summer.

“To have Ottawa firms get this experience and exposure is great,” said George Thomas, DST’s principal. “It’s high-end engineering, it’s high-end construction – it’s not just a simple construction project.”

Mr. Thomas said the work is a new challenge for the company.

DST is charged with monitoring the vibrations and movement taking place above ground as crews dig a shaft close to Kent and Queen streets, he said.

The company has installed instrumentation throughout downtown to measure the vibrations as workers blast their way down into the area where the tunnel is being constructed. This helps ensure the surrounding buildings remain safe, Mr. Thomas said.

He declined to say exactly how much the company was receiving for the work, except that it was more than $200,000.

Local firms can expect more contracts to be up for grabs before too long. About 70 to 80 per cent of the work still needs to be subcontracted out, the project’s managers said at a technical briefing held in October.

“There’s still a fair amount of procurement to be done,” said David White, a project director with Ottawa Light Rail Transit Constructors.

“A lot of the large equipment for our tunnelling has been procured but for the majority of the work there’s still a great deal of subcontracting to be completed.”

Firms such as Taggart Construction, the company responsible for digging the shaft at Kent Street, are excited to advertise their contributions to the project.

Doing the work is valuable in part because Taggart employees are getting experience they’ve never had before, said Mike Taggart, the company’s vice-president. That means it should open the doors to doing similar projects in other cities in the future.

“It’s pretty interesting work and … it would be nice to put it on your list of completed jobs with the experience and being able to bid on something in the future in another city or on (Ottawa’s) LRT in the years to come,” he said.

DST’s Mr. Thomas said the experience his firm is gaining now will serve it well if it wants to throw its hat in for projects in Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal.

Sidebar one: Getting involved

The seeds of DST’s participation in the project were planted during a trade show held last year, said George Thomas, a principal with the firm. The event allowed those bidding on the city’s contract to meet up with potential subcontractors.

Since then the firm was what Mr. Thomas calls “respectfully consistent” with the bidders. He called companies with the winning consortium, the Rideau Transit Group, on a weekly basis once the group was awarded the contract late last year.

“Our expertise was important but the fact that we maintained an interest was important for them,” he said.

Mike Taggart, the vice-president of Taggart Construction, said the work his firm is doing stemmed from its connection to one of the companies that’s part of RTG.

Group member EllisDon has always kept the city’s construction companies in the loop about contracts as they become available.

The consortium then awards the subcontracts based on which one has the lowest bid, he said.

Sidebar two: Companies doing work

The following companies are involved in the construction of the downtown tunnel:

DST Consulting Engineers Inc.

Dufresne Piling Co. (1967) Ltd.

Explotech Engineering Ltd.

R.W. Tomlinson Ltd.

Site Preparation Ltd.

Taggart Construction Ltd.

Thomas Cavanagh Construction Ltd.

Source: City of Ottawa media relations department