Sinkhole digs hole in relationship between Rideau Transit Group and Ottawa, inquiry told

The contentious relationship between Rideau Transit Group and the city of Ottawa was the centre of the public hearings at the inquiry into Ottawa’s light rail transit system on Friday.

Antonio Estrada was the CEO for Rideau Transit Group during the first stage of construction. He testified the June 2016 sinkhole on Rideau Street dug a hole in their relationship with the city.

On June 6, 2016, a massive sinkhole formed on Rideau Street just east of Sussex Drive.

Estrada saying after that moment, the city took a harder stance on their relationship.

“After the sinkhole, the situation changed a bit, for the delays in the first place the city of course didn’t like,” Estrada said.

Co-lead counsel for the commission Christine Mainville asking Estrada, “Did you perceive a lack of trust?” Estrada answering, “What I perceived was a harder contractual position from the city’s side.”

Estrada says there was also a change in tone in correspondence with the city. He says orders no longer came from then construction director Steve Cripps.

“The decisions, even technical decisions, were removed Steve Cripps and his team, to a higher-level meaning, John Manconi, and the city manager Steve Kanellakos.”

Estrada says Rideau Transit Group and its subcontractors raised concerns the “unmitigated delay” would push back the handover date by five months. However, the city wanted construction to make up time for the delay and were resistant on more delays.

The commission referencing a letter sent from city manager Steve Kanellakos to Estrada in November 2017. It said the city, as both the owner and long-term lender “is extremely concerned about the current state of progress of the project.”

The document said the potential breach to complete work on schedule “will most certainly compromise the City’s reputation,” and “have a material adverse effect on the planned availability of the transit service to its customers.”

The city’s lawyer Sharon Vogel pressed Estrada on his relationship with Cripps and other officials. Vogel asked, “Your relationship with them was one of open communication and mutual respect?” Estrada answers, “Yes.”

Vogel referred to working groups set up to cover early in the design and construction period to resolve any issues or disagreements at the working levels. Vogel also questioned Estrada on the city’s flexibility on milestone payments to RTG to ensure the consortium had cash flow.

Vogel then reference numerous variations in the project and how the city was “cooperative and made the changes requested by RTG for the good of the project.”

Vogel brought up that more than a dozen disputes were also settled and resolved.

Vogel says, “I am trying to get at the point Mr. Estrada that disputes were resolved in a practical way without any need for the independent certifier to make a determination.”

“The parties were able to sort it out between themselves,” says Vogel. “They were sorted out party-to-party at the lowest level of management the way the project agreement worked.”

Estrada say, “If you mean the city assumed the risk of settling, yes.”

The public hearings continue on Monday.

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