Starting Finch West LRT Construction in 2010

At the December 2009 TTC meeting, a question arose about the proposed delay of the Finch West construction to 2011 when so many projects serving the east end were to be accelerated in the name of the Pan Am Games.

TTC staff explained that Metrolinx had wanted to defer the Finch West start date, but this didn’t sit well with the Commission.  A report on the situation is on the TTC agenda for January.  This report makes three important points.

  1. Some preliminary construction work for bridge widening at the West Don River (east of Dufferin) and the Humber River (at Islington) is possible in 2010 subject to funding.  Property acquisition is another task that can be undertaken early in the project.
  2. Metrolinx wants the Finch West project to be handled as Design-Build-Finance (DBF) where a bidder accepts responsibility not just for constructing a line, but for a substantial part of the design work and project financing.
  3. The TTC wants to keep some of the project in house (notably the junctions between the Finch LRT and the YUS at Finch and Finch West Stations).

The TTC and Metrolinx have exchanged letters (Appendices A and B in the report), and I am intrigued to see that Metrolinx is worried about cash flow if work planned for 2011 is brought forward.

The FY 2010/11 budget for Finch West assumed continuing preliminary engineering, real estate acquisition and some early utility relocation activities to clear the way for the design-build contractor, but no major construction activities.


… our overall funding and cash flow assumptions may not allow advancing some construction activities to 2010.

It’s amusing to see that even Metrolinx, an agency that once talked of multi-billion dollar plans as if money grew on trees (or rather the money that would come from “Alternate Financing” sources), is now worrying about cash flow just like every other government.  The problem here is that the bridges are already City property, and Metrolinx cannot wish away the cost of widening them as an accounting trick where the infrastructure is held as a long term asset by Queen’s Park rather than paying for the widening as a current expense.

As for the method of tendering and managing construction at the two subway interfaces, the TTC appears unhappy with giving away control of this work.  At Finch West, this would really make sense if the station and the LRT interface were to be tendered as one piece of work within the subway extension project.

The station design is included in the printed agenda distributed to the media last week as item 2b, but it is not included online.  At this point, the design shows only a proposed connection between the two stations.

The desire for control at Finch Station no doubt relates to underground construction around the existing subway station.  However, as I have discussed elsewhere, there is still good reason to rethink the placement of Yonge Station on the Finch line, and a final decision about who will actually manage this part of the project is not needed immediately.

From a political point of view, the TTC and City are more than a little miffed that Metrolinx is suffling the construction schedules around.  To a point, I sympathize, but only in that these events show just how constrained Metrolinx is by the money Queen’s Park is making available.  AFP was supposed to solve this financing problem, but clearly Metrolinx plans are in the same cash flow straightjacket as the TTC’s.

What will this mean for the future of transit expansion in the GTA?  Are we back to “everybody loves transit, but nobody wants to pay for it”?

TTC staff will brief the Commission on their discussions with Metrolinx at the January 20 meeting, and I will update this post with any additional info when it is available.

12 thoughts on “Starting Finch West LRT Construction in 2010

  1. The following comment was submitted before I wrote the article above. I have moved it here for continuity.

    I see that there is a report on the TTC’s agenda for Wednesday concerning fast tracking some of the Etobicoke Finch West LRT project, specifically widening the bridges over the West Don and Humber rivers. It appears that the TTC is not totally enamoured with Metrolinx’s decision to go with AFP/DBF (Alternate Financing and Procurement/Design Build Finance) as a construction method. They seem to give its benefits then say that they might not pertain to the two bridges which could be started and finished earlier with the traditional approach, and oh maybe the two subway interchanges should be managed internally, oh and while were at it maybe the operating system should be done by us also. I am not quite sure what the “operating system” is it looks like the TTC does not want to give up control of the project. I assume that you will have some comments on this after the meeting. Anyone who wants to read the report can do so here.

    Steve: “Operating systems” are things like signalling, remote management for stations and power control, etc. The TTC has good reason to want to integrate work on its subway system, particularly at Finch West Station which is a construction contract in its own right. If everything can be built at once, so much the better.

    As for the bridges, this is an example of the problem of AFP requiring that all of the work be specified and ready to tender before any of it begins. That’s good for a year’s delay on construction startup. Also, it appears that Metrolinx has budgetary problems with the timing of the work and may want to delay startup just to smooth out their spending. For an agency that wants to build billions worth of transit in a short period, it’s a bit early in the game to be running short of money, especially if, under AFP, it’s someone else who would finance the project.

    Yes, I was not planning to comment on this report until after the meeting.


  2. What confuses me is… isn’t this line already funded? If so, why do we need to obtain funding through AFP?

    I’m guessing I’m missing something, but could you enlighten me?

    Steve: When Queen’s Park announces funding, all this means is that someday they will pay for something. It does not say when or how. Queen’s Park is now trying to figure out when it can actually afford to spend all of the money it announced.

    Metrolinx made a big deal out of AFP at one point because the idea, in effect, was that we would get the private sector to build lines and hold the debt, which would be repaid over time by the Province. In effect a lease-purchase. Buy on the never-never.

    There are two big problems here. First, the private sector cannot borrow money as cheaply as Queen’s Park, and we must trust in the magical ways of private enterprise to bring in a project more cheaply than the public sector. This would !presto-chango! you save money on balance. This scheme only barely made sense when the private sector had billions of spare change sloshing around looking for a home. Second, public sector accounting standards have changed, and you cannot hide a debt off-book by way of a long term lease of an asset which, in effect, you own because nobody else would buy it to take over the lease.

    Now we are hearing more about having private companies finance construction, but the asset is paid for and taken over by the Province on completion at a pre-agreed price. The difficulty here is that you must nail down every aspect of the job before you sign the contract, and any change costs extra. This imposes a huge overhead both on starting the project and on management through to final delivery. It is unclear what call Queen’s Park would have should the work turn out to be faulty ten years down the road. At the very least, there would be an expensive legal battle, assuming the company contracted to perform the work even still existed. In London, a consortium created to operate the subway system simply walked away from their losses rather than pay to fix the problems. Meanwhile the public was stuck with both the cost and the cock ups.


  3. Again with the funding problems…


    I’ve started to wonder if we need some radical thinking to rejig funding formulas for various city activities.

    Since the transit and car infrastructure both deal with how people get around Toronto, and are managed by the city, why not try something crazy, like making them work better together?

    How about making the Toronto Parking Authority part of the TTC? Instant funding for all kinds of projects, (possibly) more intelligent coordination of parking and transit infrastructure, financial independence for the TTC. They could tell Metrolinx to find the nearest inland sea and jump in.

    I like it, but I can hear the blood pressure boiling already.

    Steve: Actually, you don’t want to make TPA part of the TTC. The total revenue from TPA is miniscule relative to TTC budget requirements. In any event, TPA is already managing the TTC parking lots.


  4. So it seems like a scheme that does nothing except add a wonderful number of potential disadvantages. For an additional cost we can get the benefit of:

    -A year’s delay
    -The control of the project by a company with no vested interest in the result except for the payout (Yes this can be quite a motivator, but as Steve pointed out, this isn’t always the case)
    -A reduction in control for the institution which does have a vested interest in the end result (The TTC/The City)

    It’s not as if the TTC and the City are perfect – far from it – but at least the public has some amount of influence and their intentions are in the right direction (Would you rather the institution that has profit as it’s primary motive or an institution that has the semi-functional operation of the city in it’s sights?)

    My early prediction if it does go to AFP:

    -Sorry, we can’t change feature ‘x’ even though it’s turned out to be a bad idea since it’s already been speced/contracted out and the add-on price is too high
    -Sorry, we don’t have any control over ‘x’ part of construction since company ‘x’ is operating within its contract

    Basically, a new scape goat for a price. Brilliant.


  5. I hope the planned extension east, and south to Don Mills Sta, from the Finch/Yonge Sta. is calculated into these funding plans. I just read that Kathleen Wynne has been taken off the Educational Portfolio and McGuinty has given her Jim Bradley’s old portfolio of Transportation. I hope she is open to funding transit projects as Bradley has been in the last few years.

    I imagine that you have an insider view of Wynne since you worked in the education arena. Steve are you aware if she is public transit friendly or is she moving to this smaller portfolio because she wants to vie for the leadership after McGuinty has left? I always vote for the most transit friendly candidate.

    Steve: As far as I know, Kathleen Wynne is supportive of public transit. We chatted at one of the Eglinton LRT open houses, and she seemed mainly concerned that the TTC had a good project. I have never heard her speak badly of transit. As for project funding, this is not just a Ministry of Transportation issue because the whole MoveOntario program has the Premier’s name and support all over it. The Minister’s challenge will be to balance funding availability with the range of projects clammouring for support, and this will go straight to the debates about where we spend money (city/suburbs) and what we spend it on (local/regional transit, large/small scale projects).


  6. Why is this not being built in the hydro corridor which stretches all the way across the city (Weston to Morningside)? It seems like a colossal waste not to take advantage of a vacant ROW 500 metres to the north, with less lighted intersections to contend with, space to accommodate proper stations with prepaid boarding turnstiles and can go grade separated through several of the minor cross-intersections (Tobesmory, Driftwood) to minimize time delays.

    I know there’s an argument that along Finch will serve more but this is a flawed argument considering the majority of development through this stretch exists on the north-hand side of the corridor, proximate to the hydro corridor anyway. I know there’s an argument for not running electric through hydro corridors although electricfied GO rail tracks along preexisting ROWs will soon be in place along various GO lines and the subway on 3 ends terminates in hydro corridors (Kipling, Finch, Kennedy). Somehow these “fears” are mitigable. And ROWs like the described have been developed within hydro corridors elsewhere around the world. This model of RT would be a true crosstown, eliminate transfers but also be remarkably fast.

    The Finch West-Sheppard East BCA proves to us that travel speed is not really a high priority when considering this line. Keeping a parallel bus service along Finch proper best satisfies the needs of local constituents whom prefer not to walk up to the FHC. Remember though that the bulk of commuters particularly from Rexdale and Jane-Finch (the two high-density nodes served by this anyway) would board on street through Etobicoke and a station facility opposite York Gate Mall; so of the 36’s 42000 daily riders it’d be reduced by two-thirds going all the way to Yonge post-TYSSE. This reduced demand translates into less drivers needed so the best needs of long-distance commuters, local residents and the TTC operational costs can all be satisfied.


  7. @Michael Hobble: You have at best a handful fewer drivers, but you have more station collectors than drivers because of your fare-paid area scheme in the hydro corridor. Not cost-effective (not even close).


  8. Does AFP include allowing developers to concurrently develop property along the light rail line? Because if it did, it would certainly entice any developer to build transit city. The MTR in Hong Kong is able to finance major construction projects because it does that. Of course it helps when its major shareholder is the government of Hong Kong.

    Steve: No. Also, from experience with getting development charges on new buildings, the amount of money available from that source is tiny compared to the capital costs.


  9. @ Michael Hobble

    “Why is this not being built in the hydro corridor which stretches all the way across the city (Weston to Morningside)? “

    Because transit is best when it goes to where people are living working, shopping and hanging out; transit is poor when it makes people walk 500 metres (or more in your proposal) more to get to where they want to go for the sake of efficiency gains for a few going the whole stretch.

    Steve: There is also the small problem of the West Don River crossing which is a major obstacle if the line is in the Hydro corridor.


  10. Michael Hobble said

    “I know there’s an argument that along Finch will serve more but this is a flawed argument considering the majority of development through this stretch exists on the north-hand side of the corridor, proximate to the hydro corridor anyway.”

    This is not correct for most of Finch West:

    Hwy 400 to Jane: Hydro Corridor allignment would miss the Humber River hospital located south of Finch, as well as 2 out of 3 malls around Jane.

    Dufferin to Bathurst: several highrises and the Bramson hospital are on the south side, as well as half of shops near Bathurst.

    Bathurst to about Talbot: residential and mostly low-rise area both north and south; future density more likely in Finch proper.

    The only exception is a short stretch (1 km out of 9) between Black Creek and Keele, as many York U apartment buildings are located just north of the Hydro Corridor. But that area will get a bus route connecting it to Finch West subway and York U.


  11. Well, around Bathurst there is far more high density development north of the corridor in the Antibes-drive area that has little to no connectivity to Finch Avenue West. The Hydro corridor links different communities than would a Finch line, and has some merit, maybe in addition to said LRT. I thought that GO Transit had planned to use the corridor west of York University for its 407 buses to get to Square One, though maybe that plan has changed.

    Steve: As I said earlier in this thread, there is a problem is east of Dufferin with the West Don River. I don’t know what the long-term future of the busway is, but York U intends to build a new building on part of it once the subway opens.


  12. Jonathon wrote:

    Well, around Bathurst there is far more high density development north of the corridor in the Antibes-drive area that has little to no connectivity to Finch Avenue West. The Hydro corridor links different communities than would a Finch line, and has some merit, maybe in addition to said LRT.

    Those living in the Antibes area aren’t using the Finch bus to get to the subway anyway and they weren’t likely to use the LRT for that purpose either since as you said there isn’t a convenient connection between the Hydro corridor and those buildings. I used to frequently walk between the two parts of Torresdale when I lived on Goldfinch and the walk through the hydro field isn’t very pleasant when the weather isn’t good since there is no paved walkway there. So if the LRT was there and I lived in the Antibes area I would continue using the Drewry bus since it is a reliable service.


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