Metrolinx Resurrects Transit City (Updated)

Updated April 26, 2012 at 1:10pm:  This article has been updated to reflect discussions at the Metrolinx Board meeting of April 25, the press scrum following that meeting, and correspondence between me and Metrolinx to clarify some issues.

Notes from the Board Meeting and Press Scrum:

Chair Rob Prichard asked about the status of unrecoverable losses due to the diversion of Metrolinx effort from the original Transit City plan to the Ford transit Memorandum of Understanding.  Less that $10-million has been spent on preliminary engineering for the Eglinton tunnel east from Laird Station.  Potential extra costs from Bombardier for the vehicle supply contract are not yet known.  If these were simply inflationary increases, then the Metrolinx funding (which includes inflation) should cover this.  However, Bombardier may also claim additional expenses related to the delay.  Prichard urged staff to “negotiate” away as much of such claims as possible.

This issue came up again in the press scrum.  Metrolinx has always said that “others” must bear any extra costs due to the Ford delay, but the identity of this party is unclear.  Elizabeth Church from the Globe noted that Karen Stintz has pointed out that since the Ford MOU was never approved by City Council, the city can hardly be held responsible for the delay.

Both Rob Prichard and CEO Bruce McCuaig dodged around this and other questions related to Metrolinx’ role in pursuing the Ford plan in the absence of Council support, especially considering that Metrolinx hangs its return to LRT on Council’s clear vote for the original Transit City plan as the City’s definitive policy statement.  The Star’s Royson James described Prichard as being good at “ragging the puck”, but never managed to pin him down to an answer.

Prichard hopes that the value of the “extra cost” will be reduced to zero making this a moot point, or at least one small enough to fit under any nearby rug without most people noticing the lump.

Director Lee Parsons asked about the possible funding from P3 Canada and what this might enable.  Bruce McCuaig suggested that it might be possible to add to the scope of work with the additional money available through this federal program, but the dollar value is not large and Metrolinx must still pitch their projects to the P3C board.

Director Richard Koroscil asked what the differences were between the plan proposed here and the previously approved 5-in-10 scheme.

Jack Collins (Vice President, Rapid Transit Implementation) replied that these are mainly the slippage of Sheppard’s completion out to 2018 and the shift of the SRT completion back from 2020 to 2019.  The design team and project manager for the Sheppard project were disbanded when work stopped just over a year ago and a new team must be assembled.  Moreover, the project will now be delivered through Infrastructure Ontario (IO) as an Alternate Finance and Procurement (AFP) scheme, and this adds time for production of the contracts related to managing this process.

In the case of the SRT, the section of the route north of McCowan Station will be built while the existing SRT is still operating and this allows work to start sooner than planned on that line.

Director Rahul Bhardwaj asked about the requirement that the TTC implement the Presto smart card as a precondition of having these projects funded by Queen’s Park.  Bruce McCuaig replied that a proposal from TTC staff for an agreement with Metrolinx and the rollout of Presto will be going to the TTC board at its meeting of May 1.

Director Joe Halstead asked about the roles of three agencies — Metrolinx, the TTC and IO — in these projects.  Metrolinx will be the project owner.  IO will be the procurement agency.  The TTC will provide the design criteria, manage the design consultants and technical details of the projects, and will eventually operate the lines.

Halstead also asked about lessons learned from the St. Clair project.  Collins replied that Metrolinx will maintain a presence in communities to keep them informed as the projects evolve, and noted that the neighbourhood office for the Sheppard LRT that had been closed because of the Ford MOU would have to be reopened.

Director Doug Turnbull asked where Metrolinx stands on the role of subways.  Bruce McCuaig replied that Metrolinx supports subways such as the Spadina extension now under construction, and noted that “The Big Move 2.0” includes both the Richmond Hill extension of the Yonge line and the Downtown Relief Line.  Metrolinx will continue to support subways in this context.  Rob Prichard noted that Toronto Council had asked city planning staff for studies of a Sheppard West connection to Downsview and a Bloor West extension to Sherway.

Turnbull asked whether TBM 2.0 affects any of the four LRT lines up for approval.  Bruce McCuaig replied that the 2.0 document will review progress to date and incorporate new initiatives such as the GO electrification.

During the press scrum, Metrolinx clarified that The Big Move 2.0 will be published at the end of 2012.

Director Stephen Smith asked for a clarification of the AFP bidding process and the meaning of the term “Financial Close” in the project chart.  Jack Collins explained that the procurement would have several stages.  First, bidders would be invited to qualify to bid on the work.  Based on this, three would be chosen, and they would be given funding to prepare a more detailed proposal.  From that work, IO would make its evaluation and select a winner.  At that point, the overall contract and financing details would have to be nailed down, and this would be the “financial close”.  IO will rely on Metrolinx, the TTC and technical consultants for evaluation of the proposals.

Smith asked whether pricing would be affected by the level of activity in the construction market.  Collins replied that preliminary indications from the international market are good because work is drying up overseas.  Also, experienced resources now committed to the Spadina extension will be freed up starting in late 2015.

The report was approved by the Board, and most of us adjourned to the press scrum which was attended by Rob Prichard, Bruce McCuaig, Jack Collins and the usual bevy of Metrolinx communications staff.

After the discussion about “extra costs” noted above, questions turned to the location of the Eglinton tunnel.  It will definitely not go under the Don River because this would involve tunneling through bedrock.  The tunnel boring machines are designed for softer conditions (soil, clay, etc), not for hard rock, and this work would be very expensive.  The line will go under Don Mills Road and will provide for a future connection to a north-south route.

Questions returned to the role of Metrolinx and “the need for a clear and supportive partner” as they put it.  Elizabeth Church asked about the Mayor’s opposition to the LRT scheme.  Bruce McCuaig noted that Council had voted, and had delegated authority to the City Manager to execute contracts for these projects.  Rob Prichard observed that the Mayor and his brother speak for themselves, and that there is a broad consensus for the LRT plan.  Metrolinx won’t stand in the way of debate, but they have lots of room for working with the city.

John Lorinc asked whether Metrolinx is concerned about being “the meat in the sandwich” in the 2014 election?  Prichard replied “no”.  He observed that political actors have strong ideas, and we shouldn’t try to take politics out of transit.  However, we should keep our eyes on the main goal of better transit and less congestion rather than just fixating on four projects.  There will be a contract with the city for these four, and other projects may come.  Metrolinx should be steady in its execution of the projects and although there will be elections along the way, the recommendation is that these projects should be completed.

A few questions on the vehicle contract came up.

Would other cities outside the Metrolinx planning area be able to procure LRVs through the Metrolinx contract?  Jack Collins replied that this decision would be up to the local municipality (e.g. Kitchener-Waterloo or Ottawa).

Given the extended period between vehicle delivery and start of service on the first line (Sheppard), what will Metrolinx do about the warranty that could expire before the cars begin revenue operations?  Bruce McCuaig replied that this would form part of the discussions with Bombardier and final approval of the terms would come from Queen’s Park.  There will be two pilot cars built for Metrolinx but no dates are set yet for their delivery.

Royson James asked about Metrolinx’ role — are they simply following the political path of least resistance, or can we “take their recommendations to the bank”?  Bruce McCuaig replied that Metrolinx would give its best advice regarding regional transportation systems, and that they are the keeper of the long term view.

James asked why Metrolinx keeps changing its mind.  McCuaig replied that there are choices between technologies, and it’s not always a black and white decision.

Rob Prichard chimed in saying that there had also been changes in preference on the City’s side for Eglinton’s technology.  The Ford MOU had tradeoffs — a longer Eglinton tunnel was a gain at the expense of losing the Finch LRT (and the eastern part of a Sheppard line).  Metrolinx need to build projects that make sense, and they are “respecting democracy”.

Elizabeth Church noted that Metrolinx has changed its “expert opinion” especially on Eglinton, and this is frustrating to those who seek technical advice.  Prichard replied that between 2006-08, the original vision for Eglinton was all underground, a faster line attracting more riders.  However, the tradeoffs between costs and benefits led to a subway-surface arrangement.

This exchange led me to write for clarification because at no time did the City of Toronto endorse an all-underground Eglinton line, particularly not once Transit City was announced.  Even before, Eglinton was flagged as a corridor for improved transit and surface priority treatment, but not for a subway.  Prichard is mixing the Metrolinx planners’ fantasies of an all-underground Eglinton with official city and TTC policy decisions, and Metrolinx can hardly claim to be following the City’s changes in policy when in fact the drive for an Eglinton subway came from Metrolinx itself.

I wrote to Metrolinx:

At the media scrum, Rob Prichard talked about the to-and-fro of the city’s position on an Eglinton all-underground line.

It’s worth noting that several reports dating from 2005-6 including the City’s Official Plan and the TTC’s “Building a Transit City” showed Eglinton as a potential transit corridor, but talked much more of surface transit priority than of a subway. ‪

Yes, there was an older proposal for a subway west from Mt. Dennis to Renforth, but the projected demand was quite low and it was not taken seriously.

Therefore to suggest that there was any serious support for an Eglinton line completely underground … is stretching the point.

Metrolinx replied:

As The Big Move was being developed between 2006 and 2008, a variety of transit lines and technologies were modeled and considered in developing the full integrated GTHA system of the future, including Eglinton as a fully-separated rapid transit corridor. The Big Move does not specify whether sections are below ground or above ground.

Also, as Metrolinx worked with the City of Toronto and the Toronto Transit Commission, and a more detailed Benefits Case Analysis was undertaken, Eglinton was confirmed as grade-separated through the central section, and at surface, east of Laird Ave.

It should be noted that the benefits of a totally grade-separated Eglinton were weighed against all other rapid transit projects across the GTHA on a range of issues, including future land use, location of employment, integration with local transit, GHG reductions, the ability to serve communities of higher social need, and travel time.

You can judge for yourself whether there was a city position on the vertical alignment of Eglinton that would support Metrolinx’ claim.

John Lorinc got in a good last word with the question “Will you still support this plan in 2014?”

To assist readers in keeping track of the shifting completion dates for the projects, here is a consolidated chart of the original plans, the revised “5-in-10” plan, and the new 2012 version.

2012.04.25_Project Staging Chart

The original article from April 24 follows below.  Note that some route-specific information has been updated on April 26.

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