Last week I spent some time reviewing ReNew Canada’s special report on the “Top 100” infrastructure projects in the country, and then posted the top three contenders for the most innovative projects across 10 categories (click here to view).  This week, it’s time to announce the winners—in my humble opinion—in each category.  Here they are:

Transportation—Roadways and Bridges

Winner: Southeast Stony Trail (Alberta)
Innovation: Delivery
Description: Southeast Stony Trail is one of the largest highway projects in Alberta history and is the province’s largest ever PPP road project.  The project is being delivered through a “DFBO” or a “design-finance-build-operate” PPP contract valued at $769 million.  Innovative PPP delivery has resulted in significant savings.  Under traditional procurement, the cost was estimated at $1.8 billion.  Another innovative aspect of the PPP agreement is how the contract includes operations and maintenance to Deerfoot Trail—an entirely separate roadway.

Transportation—Public Transit

Winner: York VIVA Bus Rapidways (Ontario)
Innovation: Concept
Description: This $1.4 billion project will result in a set of separate centre lanes—Rapidways—that will allow VIVA buses to travel freely regardless of traffic volume on the adjoining roadway lanes.  The project also involves new transit stations that will connect the York VIVA buses to the Toronto subway system and Go Transit.  The Rapidway concept is innovative in that it helps public transit to better compete with the private automobiles on the “free” road.  The dedicated bus lanes ensure a time advantage during congestion, and that makes public transit a more attractive option.

Transportation—Sea and Air Ports

Winner: Calgary International Airport Terminal (Alberta)
Innovation:  Financing and Technology
Description: A total of $1.3 billion in upgrades and additions are being made to the terminal at the Calgary International Airport.  Project innovations include the financing model and technology.  Rather than using tax dollars, the Calgary Airport Authority—like other airports in Canada—levies a $25 improvement fee on each passenger ticket for departing flights.  The project also includes technological innovations such as a geothermal heating and cooling system and radiant floor heating and cooling.

Public Service (Health, Education, Social, Community, Culture)

Winner: Canadian Museum for Human Rights (Manitoba)
Innovation: Finance
Description: The new Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg is the clear winner in this category. While the museum’s unique architectural design is impressive enough, what really draws attention is the financing model.  The federal government has committed $100 million, the province $40 million, and the City of Winnipeg $20 million.  But the largest piece of financing has come through fundraising and philanthropy, which totals just under $120 million.  Almost 40% of the museum’s cost has been raised outside of government, and that makes this project shine.  The museum is also shooting for LEED Silver certification.

Thermal Electric

Winner: Swan Hills ISCG Power Project (Alberta)
Innovation: Concept, Technology, Financing
Description: This coal-powered thermal electric power project is located in Swan Hills, Alberta.  The $1.5 billion project will tap into a reserve of coal that is very deep and cannot be mined.  Through technology developed by Swan Hills Synfuels—in-situ coal gasification (ISCG)—the coal will be converted into gas, which will then be used to fuel the power plant.  The technology results in cleaner fuel, reduced air pollution, reduced carbon emissions, and lower water usage.  It is anticipated that the project will capture and sequester over 1.3 million tonnes of CO2 each year, and provide needed CO2 to nearby oil extraction projects as well.  The project is being primarily privately funded, but $285 million has been provided by the province’s Carbon Capture and Storage Fund.


Winner: Niagara Tunnel Project (Ontario)
Innovation: Technology
Description: The Niagara Tunnel is a $1.6 billion project being constructed by Ontario Power Generation.  The purpose of the project is to provide additional water to the Sir Adam Beck hydroelectric power stations.  A key part of the project is boring a 12 metre high and 10 km long tunnel under Niagara Falls.  To accomplish this task, the project used “Big Becky”—the largest rock tunnel boring machine in the world.  In May 2011, the boring machine reached daylight after drilling for four years underneath the Falls.

Renewable Electric Energy

Winner: Blackspring Ridge 1 Wind Project (Alberta)
Innovation: Technology and Export
Description: This 300 megawatt energy project will see over 160 wind turbines erected near the small town of Vulcan, Alberta.  The project is owned and financed entirely by Greengate Power Corporation, and when completed in 2013 it will be the largest wind farm in Canada.  A unique aspect of the project is how Greengate Power has signed a contract with California’s Pacific Gas and Electric.  The California utility is required by regulation to purchase 20% of its power from renewable energy sources.  The contract provides Pacific Gas and Electric with renewable energy credits generated  by winds sweeping over southern Alberta.

Water and Wastewater

Winner: Hanlan Feeder Main (Ontario)
Innovation: Partnership
Description: The Hanlan feedermain project is a 15 km long stretch of water infrastructure connecting York Region’s water treatment plant on Lake Ontario to the Hanlan Reservoir and its pumping stations.  The new feedermain will help meet growing demand for water, and ensure no disruptions to water service when the existing feedermain requires inspection or maintenance.  The innovation here is the partnership established between the regions of York and Peel.  The York-Peel water Agreement requires Peel Region to provide water to York Region, while York Region provides Peel with $340 million to upgrade Peel’s water infrastructure.  This is a good example of how regions can cooperate to get essential infrastructure projects completed.

Environment and Waste Management

Winner: Sydney Tar Ponds Cleanup (Nova Scotia)
Innovation: Partnership and Technology
Description: Eight years ago, a ten-year $400 million project was announced to remediate the Sydney Tar Ponds on Cape Breton Island.  The clean-up of the tar ponds—a top contender for one of the worst ecological and environmental disasters in Canada—has been given to the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, a Special Operating Agency (SOE) of the Nova Scotia government.   Rather than digging up and moving the dirt, the contaminents and soil will be cleaned and stabilized on-site.  While a number of technologies are in play, the most interesting is bioremediation or “land farming.” This process tills into the soil bacteria and nutrients that “eat” hydrocarbons.  Over a dozen community groups have representatives on a special Community Liaison Committee that works with the Tar Ponds Agency during the cleanup.

Most Innovative Project Overall

Winner: Boundary Dam Integrated CCS Demonstration (Saskatchewan)
Innovation: Technology
Description: With over 600 megawatts (MW) of output, the Boundary Dam power plant in Estevan, Saskatchewan is one of western Canada’s largest coal-fired thermal electric plants.  The plant is currently undergoing a $1.3 billion upgrade that will retrofit Unit 3 with a carbon capture, storage, and enhanced oil recovery system.  While the project will reduce the output of Unit 3 by about 40 MW, the project has the potential to capture an estimated 3 million tonnes of CO2 annually.  The project is the largest carbon capture and storage project in the world, and is slated for completion in 2015.  Given the globe’s concern with climate change and the need to deal with CO2 emissions, this project—in my opinion—emerges as the most important and innovative projects on ReNew’s “Top 100.”

One of the most interesting features of my “Top 10” is how 70% of the most innovative projects can be found in western Canada.  I certainly did not intend this outcome, but that’s how things have shaken out.  Before I submit this list to the folks at ReNew Canada for inclusion in their March-April issue, I invite comments and feedback—either to the blog or in the forum.  If I have missed the mark on any of these, please let me know.

– By Casey Vander Ploeg, senior policy analyst