The province’s Auditor General is asking transit agency Metrolinx why it awarded a $39 million contract to a construction company after it allegedly botched building a pedestrian bridge spanning Highway 401 in Pickering.

In her annual report, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk says the contractor selected to build both phases of a pedestrian bridge across 14 lanes of Highway 401 in Pickering installed one of bridge’s support beams upside down, and that Metrolinx staff became so concerned about the health of the project they did much of the firm’s work for it.

On the second phase of construction, the auditor general said the firm damaged glass on the bridge, costing Metrolinx $1 million to repair.

It also improperly built a stairwell so that it was too wide to accept the cladding built to cover it.

Metrolinx then terminated the contract but ended up paying the firm 99 per cent of the value of the contract, amounting to $8 million.

Not only did the firm receive nearly all of the money it was owed, it was also then was picked to build a much larger project, the Auditor General said.

“We note that after the contractor’s poor performance on both Phase 1 and Phase 2 of this project, Metrolinx awarded this contractor another project valued at $39 million,” the auditor general wrote.

In response, the contractor, APlus General Contractors Corp., released a statement on Wednesday saying problems with constructing the bridge were solely because of its flawed design.

“We completed the work as designed, and the reason the work on the bridge is still not complete is because of material limitation(s) as designed,” project manager Fiaz Kara said.

“We were relieved of that contract a few months ago, and from our understanding the project is going to be redesigned and work will be retendered.”

Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins said the agency disputes some of the auditor general’s account of what occurred, saying the contractor did well on the first phase of the project but had difficulties with the second phase, which involved installing support beams and trusses.

She said several parts of the bridge were not designed properly and therefore parts did not fit the way they were supposed to when it came to construction.

The auditor general also criticized Metrolinx for not penalizing companies hired to design projects that made errors in design or omitted construction requirements.

At the time the next larger $39 million contract was awarded to the firm, Aikins said Metrolinx had no rules in place to prevent a contractor from winning more work if they had performed poorly during previous projects — all that mattered was whether they bid lower than their competitors.

That process has since been changed to consider a company’s past performance when awarding new construction contracts.

Metrolinx says the pedestrian bridge is mostly complete now, despite it being scheduled for completion in 2013, because the agency used its own staff to correct mistakes, incurring costs over and above the cost of the original construction contract.