The Bradford Bypass is expected to cost at least $1 billion, according to Infrastructure Ontario's most recent market update.
The $1 billion cited by Infrastructure Ontario (IO) is for "design and construction costs."
IO is one of the province's larger agencies, which reports to the Ministry of Infrastructure and Minister Kinga Surma.
The Ford government has been quite quiet on cost estimates after initially suggesting it would cost $800 million a couple of years ago.
"We estimate it will cost around $800 million. But a lot of work needs to be done to refine the cost of the highway," Transport Minister Caroline Mulroney told Bradford Today in May 2021.
During an unrelated announcement last week, Mulroney said the project would cost more than she projected in 2021, but didn't give any more specific numbers.
"The project will cost more than the original estimate the Ministry of Transportation developed years ago," she said.
The government came up with the $800-million estimate before COVID-19 and high rates of inflation, Mulroney added.
Inflation had been in the Bank of Canada's target range of about two per cent for a while, before starting to ramp up in April 2021. After that, it skyrocketed for the rest of the year and into 2022. It hit a peak of 8.1 per cent in June 2022, and has fallen to just over five per cent in the time since.
"We are making progress on our plan to deliver it and ... we want to have a competitive procurement process so we can attract as many bidders as possible so we can deliver value for taxpayers," Mulroney said.
The project has been posted on IO's market updates since May 2022, just before the June provincial election.
In the May update, IO said it expected to issue the first request for quotes for the project sometime between July and September of 2022. The November 2022 update, however, pushed that back to sometime between April and June 2023.
"The Ministry is still in the early stages of procurement for the project," said a spokesperson for Mulroney, in a statement to The Trillium.
"To ensure the best possible value for taxpayers, it is imperative that we protect the competitive procurement process. As each contract is awarded, the contract cost will continue to be announced and posted publicly, as has been the case for all our projects to date."
Even before the government came up with the $800 million number, outside estimates cast doubt.
IO's market updates also show that, as of March 2023, the government hadn't settled on a financing model for the project.
The figures are presented in a table alongside other major transit and transportation projects such as Highway 17 and tunnelling for the Yonge Street subway extension.
Both of those projects are being financed under the "design, build, finance" (DBF) model, one of several models used by the government to pay for major infrastructure projects.
"A DBF approach awards the design and construction under a single contract. Consortiums, joint ventures or subcontract agreements may be established between two or more companies to pool the resources and expertise necessary to deliver a DBF project," reads an explainer from Infrastructure Ontario's website.
The website lists 10 different financing models for all types of infrastructure projects but notes the ministry doesn't use two of them.
Other projects listed in the table have a price range with a lower and upper limit. For example, the Yonge Street subway extension should cost between $2 and $4 billion. The Bradford Bypass is one of only two projects that doesn't have a cost range. It just says "greater than" $1 billion.
The table also shows that, as of March 2023, the ministry couldn't provide an expected "contract execution" date. The government's project website for the project says it intends for the freeway's preliminary design to be completed this year.
As for paying for the highway once it gets rolling, in 2021 Premier Doug Ford ruled out tolling the road and said provincial tax dollars will pay for it.
"I want to be clear our plan for building roads, bridges and highways doesn’t include tolls,” Ford said in November 2021.
“Our government is fully funding the construction of the Bradford Bypass — this project is a critical part of our plan that’s building Ontario,” he said.
The government issued a request for proposals for a bridge that'll cross the bypass in November 2021. The bridge would cross the freeway on Yonge Street between Eighth and Ninth Line.
The project was initially conceived in the late 1980s and shelved by previous governments because the civil service rated others as higher priority. When the Tories came into power, they moved it up the pecking order ahead of other projects the civil service said were more important, the AG's report found.
The Bradford Bypass could be facing some headwinds, based on a recent court case.
Last week, a Federal Court judge declared that federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault was "unreasonable" to deny a request by environmental groups to reconsider his decision to forego an environmental assessment of the project.
According to the groups, they could now resubmit an assessment request, which could mean the federal government getting involved.
There could be a number of different outcomes if the federal government were to undertake an environmental assessment: it could have little impact; it could delay the project, or force it to meet new requirements; or it could force its shelving altogether.
The bypass underwent a provincial environmental assessment in 1997 and was conditionally approved in 2002. The 2002 conditional approval also required further study. The project was shelved for a while, but the Tories revived it in 2019.
In 2020, the province exempted the Bradford Bypass from some of the further study requirements. In 2021, the province passed another regulation further exempting the project from another provincial environmental assessment provided the project's proponents follow certain processes.
The project's website says the draft environmental assessment will come in 2023.