On December 20, 2013, there was a briefing for media on the Eglinton Crosstown Project at Metrolinx. Coming the morning after the Press Gallery’s Christmas party, this was a lightly attended event and it received scant coverage.
Tunnel Construction Progress
The tunneling is making better progress than expected. Originally, the contractor had planned for 12m/day, but they are actually making 20m/day thanks to improved efficiency in removal of spoil with a conveyor system.
At Eglinton West Station, the project faces the problem of getting under the existing Spadina Subway structure. Original plans called for an extended shutdown of the Allen Road and much of Eglinton Avenue so that the tunnel boring machines (TBMs) could be disassembled, extracted from the west side of the site, lowered into a new access shaft on the east side, and reassembled to continue their journey east to Yonge.
This scheme was not acceptable to the City of Toronto and a new proposal is under consideration. The access shafts will be longer, but the TBMs will be extracted, moved and lowered back into place in one piece. The move across the subway structure would be done similarly to rapid bridge replacement projects with a support structure to carry the TBMs (which weigh 420 metric tons) from the west to the east side. This approach will eliminate the need to disassemble and reassemble the machines.
The eastern tunnel contract includes the launch shaft (between Brentcliffe and the west branch of the Don River), and work will begin there early in 2014. The eastern tunnels will bore west to Yonge.
The two tunnel contracts – at $283-million for the west side and $177m for the east – are only part of the much larger cost of building an underground transit line. The tunnels (of which the western section is now under construction) will be provided as empty tubes – physical structures with no installed systems – for the next stage in the project. Tunneling will complete in 2016.
At each station site, headwalls are built at each end of what will become the station excavation. As the TBMs reach the headwalls, they bore through and leave behind a completed tunnel that will be partly disassembled when the station construction digs down to them. Two techniques are used for these walls depending on local conditions:
- Secant piles require boreholes into which the piles are installed. These require utility relocations to avoid the boring activity.
- Jet grouting uses a slurry to form the headwalls without the need to bore. This approach is being used at Caledonia Station.
The TTC assisted with specifications for the tunnels to ensure that they meet the standard of other Toronto infrastructure. These will be constructed as empty round tubes that will be transferred to the bidders for the next stage of construction and who will take over the risk for future maintenance.
Request for Proposals Issued
The project is extremely large with an estimated cost of $5.3-billion, and over half of this will be in one large contract for:
- construction of stations in the tunneled portion of the line;
- construction of the surface portion east from the portal in Leaside and west from the portal at Black Creek;
- construction of cut-and-cover stations at Mount Dennis, Don Mills and Kennedy;
- outfitting of the line and stations; and
- ongoing maintenance of the infrastructure for 30 years.
It is unclear at this point how much advance provision will be included at Don Mills for a future north-south rapid transit line, and this is one of many important details to be worked out over 2014 as the proposals are finalized.
At Kennedy, the proposed layout shifts the Crosstown LRT station further north compared with earlier proposals. When the station was intended as a link between the Scarborough LRT and the Eglinton line, including a future eastern extension, the LRT platform was to be located under the north bus roadway. This would have placed the underground LRT station immediately north of the existing subway structure.
In the now-proposed design, the LRT station is under the north service road and connects via passageways to the existing subway mezzanine.
Metrolinx appears to assume that the Scarborough Subway will take the “City” route east along Eglinton and north via McCowan. The alternative “Glen Murray” alignment via the SRT corridor would require a new Kennedy Station to sit right where the LRT station is proposed.
The recommended route will not be known for at least a year until the Scarborough Subway EA looks at the two schemes in detail, but Metrolinx plans to finalize the tender that will include Kennedy LRT station before the EA is completed.
The situation will be further complicated should the City change its mind, again, about a preferred technology if the subway proves more expensive after the EA reviews the options in more detail.
Developing the Proposals
The premise behind Infrastructure Ontario’s Alternative Financing and Procurement (AFP) model is that teams of companies bid on large projects and take on the risk involved with integration of the various project components. They are also responsible for some of the project financing. This contrasts with “conventional” projects such as the Spadina subway extension where the risk lies with the owner/designer of the project – the TTC and its funding partners.
This is the largest project ever for IO, although they include other transit projects (Ottawa and Kitchener-Waterloo LRTs) in their portfolio. Ottawa only began construction in 2013, and K-W is still in the preconstruction stage. The success of IO’s approach on projects of this scale remains to be proven.
Only two consortia responded to the RFQ, and both of these have progressed to the RFP stage. Metrolinx had hoped to get three or more, but given the extraordinary cost and time commitment needed to prepare a bid ($20-30m), there is a strong disincentive for additional bidders who will only worsen everyone’s chances of winning. Metrolinx noted that there were only two bidders for the Ottawa project which, at $2.1b, is about two-thirds the value of the the main Eglinton-Crosstown contract. IO’s experience is that having more bidders leads to more drop-outs during the RFP process, but one might also ask just how many consortia on this scale can be pulled together.
In earlier public comments, Metrolinx had implied that the consortia would be expected to finance about $1b on the project cost. However, it appears that this will be short-term, not long-term financing as the RFP has been structured so that 85% of costs will have been paid out by the end of construction, and the remaining 15% will be paid over 30 years after the line opens as a holdback, an incentive for quality work. The maintenance contract for the infrastructure will be separate from the construction contract.
Metrolinx and IO were rather vague in their description of how the winning bidder would be paid. Some comments implied that there would be no payments until substantial completion, others that these would be on an incremental basis. There will be payment holdbacks until work is turned over to Metrolinx, but this process is used in conventional contracts.
During the 30-year contract period, Metrolinx will expect the infrastructure to be maintained in a fit state so that by 2050 it will remain in a state of good repair. To that end, the contract will include provision for withholding the 15% from the original construction project, although this would not be much of a penalty near the end of the term. There will be a seven year look-ahead by Metrolinx so that problems can be identified before they become chronic.
What this arrangement skirts, however, is the fact that for the first 30 years, much subway infrastructure is still within the lifespan of the originally installed equipment. As the TTC has found, older infrastructure has to be repaired and replaced at a considerable ongoing cost. In effect, the consortia will be bidding on the cheapest one third of the supposed “100 year life” of the subway structure.
IO’s intent is that most or all design changes will be identified during the bid process in 2014 so that pricing proposals can be firm with limited contingencies. This is an essential part of IO’s style and approach to project cost control – identify as much of the design as possible up front and limit change orders to essentials. Whether that is actually possible on a project of this scale and duration remains to be seen.
Bids will be prepared on the basis of the net present value of capital works and maintenance. The latter is a real challenge. Although having to maintain what you build will be an incentive to build it well, a bid that proves unprofitable in the long term could lead to inferior maintenance especially toward the end of the contract.
During 2014, there will be a series of design presentation meetings to the bidders so that they will clearly understand what is required, and there will be a public component to this as designs are refined.
The bid scoring will encourage partnerships with local firms as well as the provision of apprenticeships for local residents. The details and scale of this have not been made public, nor is there an indication of whether it is a mandatory requirement or a “nice to have”.
The consortia will review Metrolinx’ proposed design leading to bid submissions, contract award and “financial close” (an IO term denoting the finalization of the contract) in spring 2015. This implies that no construction beyond the tunneling work will begin until later in that year.
Station construction will occur concurrently at all sites. This is necessary to fit the 3-year period needed for each station into the overall project target. Part of the bid process will be the concept of “lane rentals” where bidders will identify how long they will require lanes to be shutdown for access to the construction site below. Taking longer than the bid amount will incur a penalty to encourage bidders to weigh the cost of unplanned disruptions.
The road decking will use concrete panels rather than timber, a system used in Los Angeles tunnel projects. These panels are easier to remove and reinstall for short term access.
The station designs will include provision for future redevelopment around the sites. Some of the “exit only” facilities may be redesigned as automatic entrances to make them more attractive as potential connections to new buildings. Stations will be designed to have some uniformity of style to “brand” them as part of the Crosstown line. This is quite different from the approach taken on the Spadina extension where each station is unique.
According to current plans, the Crosstown line will open for service in late 2020.