Botched estimate sinks Chilliwack's runway dream

Extending Chilliwack airport's runway would cost $5 million more than first suggested

Photo: đź“· Chilliwack Airport/Facebook

Chilliwack’s plan to lengthen its airport’s runway has taken a nose-dive after engineers pegged the cost to be more than three times the previous estimate.

In May, politicians and officials gathered at the city’s small airport to celebrate a grant that would significantly expand the length of the runway and add lighting.

The airport’s general manager noted that the facility’s runway was “about 10 years past its lifetime” and officials touted the ability for a longer runway to accommodate more flights from bigger aircraft.

Chilliwack MLA Dan Coulter was on hand at the event to announce that the province would be picking up three-quarters of the project’s estimated $2 million tab.

But, it turns out, extending the runway would cost far, far more than the massive engineering firm hired by the city had predicted.

On Tuesday, Chilliwack council will receive a report declaring that initial estimate “deficient in several areas,” and revealing that a new quote has puts the project’s actual price at about $7 million.

About that estimate

The original estimate had been developed by SNC Lavalin, a major engineering firm that the city had first hired in 2018 to conduct a feasibility study for extending the runway. According to the city, SNC Lavalin provided an updated “Class B” cost estimate in December, 2022. Class B estimates are supposed to be a “substantive” estimate based on detailed design information for a given project.

The federal government (an entity that has infamously hired SNC Lavalin for an array of work), suggests that such estimates should be within 10% of the eventual cost. But the estimate the firm delivered to Chilliwack came nowhere close to the real amount necessary to upgrade the runway.

The city’s engineer firm recently put together a new “Class A” estimate necessary to put the project out for tender. And they found that expanding the runway would cost millions more than SNC Lavalin had said.

In their report, city staff say SNC Lavalin’s construction cost lacked several important considerations, including the need to preload land at the east end of the runway, along with “additional drainage works.” Those weren’t the big costs missed, though.

The city says the estimate came in so long because it failed to include “labour and installation costs.” Paying people to actually widen the runway and install new lights, apparently costs money.

The new plan

Widening the runway might not happen anytime soon. At Tuesday’s council meeting, staff will recommend the city put off widening the runway, and instead focus on upgrading lighting and electrical systems at the airport.

The province has agreed to let the city use its grant just for the electrical upgrades. Staff say those improvements will still increase safety and operations at the airport. But they will leave the runway as outdated as officials declared them to be in May.

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