At its May 27, 2015, meeting, the TTC Board received a presentation from Rick Thompson, the Chief Project Manager for the Scarborough Subway Extension (SSE). This presentation is not yet online.
During the presentation, Thompson noted that the process of winnowing down nine alternative routes for the SSE was nearly complete, and that a report on the three short-listed options would be issued fairly soon.
The original nine proposals included two major groups. The first would see the north end of the line continue east from STC on alignments similar to the proposed Scarborough LRT crossing Sheppard at either Markham Road or Progress. Three routes were proposed to reach the existing SRT corridor:
- Via the SRT as currently constructed.
- Via Eglinton and Midland, then swinging back into the SRT right-of-way north of Eglinton (this would avoid reconstruction of Kennedy Station on a north-south alignment).
- Via Eglinton and Midland, joining into the SRT alignment near the existing Midland Station.
The second group takes a north-south alignment through or past STC and all arrive at Sheppard and McCowan as their terminus:
- A Midland/McCowan option would swing into the Gatineau hydro corridor south of Lawrence to link northeast to McCowan and then follow the McCowan route north.
- A Brimley option would travel east on Eglinton, north on Brimley and then swing northeast through STC to McCowan.
- A McCowan option would follow Eglinton to Brimley, then swing north via Danforth Road to McCowan. This was the original proposal approved by Council.
- A Bellamy option would follow Eglinton to Bellamy, turn north, and then swing back to the northwest to reach the McCowan/STC station.
- A Markham Road option would follow Eglinton to Markham Road (although the exact alignment east of Bellamy is unclear), then turn north and eventually back west to McCowan. This is the most roundabout of the possible routes.
Events overtook the plans, and a report on the shortlisted options that had gone privately to Councillors made its way into the media. The Star’s Jennifer Pagliaro reported that the three remaing options were the original McCowan alignment, the Bellamy alignment and the Midland route running straight north to meet the SRT corridor.
[Toronto Star, from City of Toronto]
Although the study area for the SSE extends east to Markham Road, that option did not make the cut. An obvious reason is that this takes the line too far out of the way adding substantially to the cost and to the travel time from Sheppard and STC down to Kennedy Station. Cost premiums of $600m and $1b have been suggested for the Bellamy and Markham Road alignments respectively.
Why go further east? The problem lies in Mayor Tory’s Smart Track plan in the GO corridor now shared with the SRT. If Smart Track provides frequent convenient service and, like the SRT, is part of the TTC fare system, then it will draw many riders from the SSE, riders who were used to justify the switch from LRT to subway technology in the first place. If the line is further east, advocates hope that it will draw its own demand by intercepting riders first. However, another part of the demand model concerns riders arriving from the north who contributed to the bump in demand estimates for the subway. These riders would come from the very north edge of Toronto and from Markham where any service in the GO corridor will be much more attractive than taking a bus south to a Sheppard/McCowan Station, let alone to STC if the subway is shortened as a cost-saving measure.
The Bellamy route is an odd choice because it runs through a low density area which shows no sign of imminent development. Midland is equally odd because it is closer to SmartTrack even than the McCowan route. Both are compromises that are attractive only if one accepts premises that are as much about politics as planning.
- Bellamy moves the line further east at a comparatively modest cost (“only” another $600m), and may improve the SSE/ST ridership split a bit. This route also has a connection to GO’s Lake Shore East service at Eglinton Station, although the geometry of the location could make this tricky. How many GO customers would opt to ride to midtown via the subway rather than staying on their train to Union is worth investigation lest this connection be played up for more than it might actually deliver.
- Midland is a variant on the scheme advanced by former Transportation Minister Glen Murray for the subway to follow the SRT corridor. That idea would have required a complete replacement of Kennedy Station and a multi-year shutdown. This is a face-saving alternative to retain the spirit of Murray’s proposal.
The existence of this report and its availability to the media raises serious questions about the context of the TTC presentation. At the very moment the TTC Board was told that the shortlist had not been finalized, not only had this been done but the information was in Councillors’ hands.
Estimates for subway projects run agound on the variety of factors that can affect costs including inflation, topography, geology, utilities and operational plans. The Council approval was based on an estimated cost to complete the project of $3.56-billion including inflation. Costs would be shared between Ottawa (19%), Queen’s Park (56%) and Toronto (26%). Any further cost is to Toronto’s account, and this makes the selection of options and features that could drive up the cost an important issue for Council.
The scheme as approved would be 7.6km long with three stations at Lawrence East, STC and Sheppard East using a fleet of seven trains (enough to operate every second train beyond Kennedy Station to Sheppard). Construction would begin in 2018 with completion in late 2023. Already there have been suggestions that a fourth station should be added at Brimley and Eglinton.
The estimated unit costs for construction are $180m/km plus about $200m/station. These are 2015 dollars and are subject to inflation.
To put these numbers in context, the Spadina extension to Vaughan is 8.6km long, and has 6 stations. That is $1.548b worth of running structure plus $1.2b worth of stations, plus ten trains at a cost of about $160m, for a total of roughly $3b. The actual budget for the extension is $2.6b reflecting the fact that some work was done in years past. In any event, the uninflated unit costs are in the ballpark. Things could easily get out of control if, for example, Councillors demand architectural monuments for their stations, or if the route is substantially extended.
Station cost estimates for the original scheme vary considerably:
- Lawrence at $160m. This is a line station that would have no provision for parking. No turnback crossover structure would be provided.
- STC at $200m. This station would include parking and a crossover.
- Sheppard at $500m. This station would not be just a terminal, but would have tail tracks and storage tracks to provide an overnight home for the expanded fleet. Note that this cost will apply to whatever station becomes the terminal because the storage facility has to go somewhere.
The TTC had planned to undertake public consultation through the summer despite the fact that (as described in the presentation), the shortlisted corridors were still not known. Conversely, a final recommended alignment is supposed to come before Council in Fall 2015 as part of the larger package of studies on Smart Track, GO and the Downtown Relief Line.
All of this is moving with some haste in a “get it done” mode, although the entire process could run aground depending on the financial and ridership projections that will face Council. The TTC is already contracting for basic services such as tunnel design and project management with little defined as to scope of work because the alignment is unknown. The idea is to have everything in place to start work the moment there is an approved project. The scheme would then unfold in three major stages:
- Up to 2016: Project startup, staffing, etc. Preliminary engineering and Transit Project Assessment.
- 2016 to 2018: Property acquisition and design.
- 2018 to 2023: Construction.
This schedule was described as very optimistic and it could be affected by factors such as unexpected conditions or substantial increase in scope (length, stations). Another factor that could complicate the process could be the extra time needed to design, tender and negotiate some form of P3 arrangement for project delivery. However, that mechanism is a prerequisite for federal funding, and is much beloved of Queen’s Park through its Infrastructure Ontario arm. The City and TTC would have to come up with a significant justification to avoid going the P3 route especially with the history of the Spadina project and the sense that somehow this could have been avoided with private sector expertise and some degree of “risk transfer” to a private partner.
When challenged on the speed at which the project appears to be building up steam, CEO Andy Byford replied that Council has directed the TTC to build a subway, and barring any change in that direction, he is proceeding to do this as quickly as possible. The consulting contracts that have been let so far (or are pending) are to be paid based on work actually done within an upset limit, and they have escape clauses should the TTC need to change plans based on political shifts.
Council will face the combined effects of any cost increases in the SSE, the potential bill for other transit projects, and major non-transit work such as the need to rebuild Toronto Community Housing stock, not to mention budgetary pressures in the 2016 cycle. This will all hit Council in Fall 2015.