As Canada works to overcome its infrastructure deficit, public-private partnerships (P3s) are increasingly being seen as a key part of the answer. By transferring risk from the public sector to the private sector, governments can better leverage their assets and ensure that major infrastructure projects are well-maintained throughout their operational life.

“A lot of the infrastructure deficit we see in North America is a result of deferred maintenance issues,” explains Nuria Haltiwanger, CEO of ACS Infrastructure Canada. “Deferred maintenance creates exponential cost increases as assets don’t get the maintenance they need and then deteriorate at a higher rate. By having the long-term view incorporated into the design from the beginning, P3s help to ensure that, for example, a bridge that was designed to operate for 75 or 100 years is being maintained to a quality that can actually deliver on that design life.”

Decades of international experience

Haltiwanger knows what she’s talking about. The company has been building infrastructure projects around the world for more than 45 years and has staked out a spot at the top of their field. They’ve been named the World’s Top Transportation Developer by Public Works Financing magazine 11 years running and the Top International Contractor by Engineering News Record for six years running. “We have the largest global infrastructure portfolio among our competitors and one of the longest histories doing P3s,” says Haltiwanger. “We’ve been especially dedicated to North America for many years and have built up a very experienced workforce across Canada and the US.”

That workforce takes the shape of local jobs everywhere ACS, with its contractor affiliate Dragados, builds a P3. Because the P3 model allows more infrastructure projects to be built, work starts sooner, which means more jobs today. “To deliver a project successfully you’re going to be looking at the local workforce,” says Haltiwanger. “You need people who know the area, know the local regulations, and are experienced at working with other local entities and stakeholders. Our goal is to try and partner with other local contractors and to subcontract to local subcontractors. Depending on the type of project, up to 80 percent or more of the work can end up being locally subcontracted.” The company’s ability to optimize projects based on the needs of government and other stakeholders has allowed them to work on larger, international projects with a high degree of expertise.

Transforming the infrastructure landscape

ACS’s P3 projects in North America include the $2.5 billion-plus Automated People Mover at Los Angeles Airport, the $5.5 billion-plus Eglinton-Crosstown LRT in Toronto, and the upcoming $3 billion-plus Gordie Howe International Bridge connecting Windsor to Detroit. “We really get excited by projects that are innovative, transformational, and affect the community in a positive way,” says Haltiwanger. “The Gordie Howe project is a good example of that. It’s going to help improve trade and have a direct impact on the revitalization of communities in the area. We love doing projects that touch people’s daily lives.”

The success that ACS has had in Canada is a testament both to their expertise and to a national willingness to embrace the P3 model. “The Canadian market, in general, is extremely sophisticated in structuring and understanding how P3s work ,” says Haltiwanger. “It is definitely a global leader in this area and an example for other countries. While there have definitely been more P3s procured in Canada, we are seeing an increased focus and interest in the States for this alternative delivery model.”

You can expect to see more innovative Canadian P3s being developed in the future, as long as companies like ACS continue to ensure that these partnerships are developed with a holistic lifecycle approach that will minimize risk and benefit the local community.