Dryden city councillors have approved a $1.3 million contract with Kenora’s Moncrief Construction to replace and upgrade eight sets of traffic lights throughout the community.

The need for new traffic lights comes after the Ministry of Transportation requested a report on the status of Dryden’s traffic lights along Highway 17 and the Highway 594 corridor in 2018.

Public Works Manager Blake Poole explains that the report, which came back to council in 2019, noted several deficiencies and recommendations for city staff, including that many traffic lights, equipment and poles were at the end of their lifespan and needed replacement.

As well, the report called for a number of modernization measures, some of which have already been carried out by city staff, like new line painting work. Further improvements include new pedestrian crosswalks and buttons, and advanced flashing greens to be replaced with separate turning arrows.

Poole explains that the city hired a Thunder Bay consultant to assist with design and construction administration services, at a combined cost of about $144,000. As well, electrical hardware and equipment cost the city about $360,000.

The city estimated that construction would cost under $800,000 and put out the contract for bidders. Only one bid was received, which Mayor Greg Wilson noted was concerning, and it was Moncrief Construction at $1.44 million, or just under double what the initial costs were estimated to be.

All said and done, the original bid would have cost the city about $1.9 million. Poole says the city then asked the MTO for more funding, which was denied. They then met with Moncrief to work to lower their costs, much of which was driven by inflation and supply chain issues from the COVID-19 pandemic, and eventually settled on the new $1.3 million contract.

Still, the city had budgeted for about $475,000 under what the project was expected to cost, after design work and material costs. During a Council meeting on March 28, councillors approved using federal gas tax funds to offset to project’s overage, and plan to lobby the MTO for more funding in 2022.

City Treasurer Steven Lansdell-Roll notes that staff considered a few other options to reduce the project’s costs, such as splitting the work into multiple phases or the city becoming their own general contractor and hiring subcontractors, but decided against taking on the additional risks with multiple other projects underway.

Work is expected to begin later this year along Highway 17 and Highway 594.

The city applied for the Connecting Links funding through the province in November 2020. It was announced that Dryden was successful in its application in April 2021, and a contract was signed in September 2021 for the original $1.3 million. The MTO’s portion is $1.2 million, with the city contributing about $133,000, or about 10 per cent of the project’s initial value.