This article continues my examination of the mound of reports going to Toronto Executive Committee and to the Metrolinx Board on June 28, 2016. For a complete list, see Part I of this series.
The subject here is the Initial Business Case for the Scarborough Subway Extension.
A few central points underlie the study:
- In a review of possible subway alignments through the Scarborough Town Centre, an east-west alignment comes out on top because it would better support future growth of the STC precinct via an eastern extension that is impossible with a north-south alignment.
- Options that would produce an east-west alignment are eliminated from consideration before a full technical and financial evaluation because it is claimed that the SRT would have to be shut down for the entire period of construction.
- The preferred alignment via McCowan includes technical challenges, and there are alternatives via Brimley, but these have not been studied in detail. There is no sense of the comparative cost of the alternatives.
Opening date for a Scarborough Subway is now pushed off to 2025 because various reviews, debates and studies have pushed back the start date for the project.
The report is completely silent on related capital projects that are pre-requisites to an SSE including:
- Replacement of the existing fleet of cars serving the BD subway to allow automatic operation over the extension.
- Provision of a new subway yard.
- Launch, but not necessarily completion, of a project to re-signal the existing BD subway.
Updated June 25, 2016 at 10:30 pm:
In the evaluation of options that would require the shutdown of the SRT during construction of whatever might replace it, the report states:
Bus replacement for the SRT service during the construction period would require 63 additional buses and infrastructure requirements such as a bus facility to accommodate the additional bus fleet, and bus terminal expansions at Scarborough Centre and Kennedy Station. The cost of shutting down the SRT during the construction period would amount to approximately $171 million (YOE/Escalated $).
However, this makes no allowance for the following savings:
- Avoiding the need to keep the existing SRT operating, a value estimated in July 2013 as $132 million including inflation. See Scarborough Rapid Transit Options at p 7.
- Buses and garage space provisioned for the temporary shuttle would have a life beyond the end of the project, and indeed the TTC requires another new bus garage beyond McNicoll Garage in northern Scarborough. Only the cost of buying, building and operating these earlier than would otherwise occurs counts as a net cost against the project.
This is either an error in calculation, or a misrepresentation of the true cost of replacing SRT operation.
Given that the LRT option would require a shorter shutdown of the SRT than the subway options, the cost of the bus shuttle would be correspondingly lower.
[End of update]
Although many possible routes for a subway extension in Scarborough were on the table in early stages of the study, only four survived into recent parts of the review:
- Option 1: A 3-stop line via McCowan to Sheppard
- Option 2A: A 1-stop line via McCowan to Scarborough Town Centre (STC)
- Option 2B: A 1-stop line via Midland to STC
- Option 2C: A 1-stop line via the SRT corridor to STC
Other options via Brimley to the STC are in a state of limbo:
Alternative express subway options (via Brimley Corridor) were also identified but have not been included as part of this business case analysis. These options may be included in future phases of work. [p. 3]
The options are summarized in the following table.
Option 2C via the SRT corridor had two separate schemes. One called “the Metrolinx option” would require the demolition and replacement of Kennedy Station, and the other a wide loop east and north from the existing station. Neither option is ideal, but the loop variant is preferred as the less difficult of the two.
The option proposed by Metrolinx was ruled out because, of the two, it would be much more costly and have more significant construction impacts. The option would have resulted in a longer alignment constructed on the surface but would require a temporary closure of the subway east of Warden Station. In addition to demolishing and reconstructing Kennedy Station, the approaching tracks would need to be lowered beginning west of Kennedy Road to allow the subway to pass under the Eglinton Crosstown LRT line and access the SRT corridor.
The option that was carried forward as Option 2C maintains Kennedy Station, but requires a large loop at the south end from Kennedy Station to return to the SRT corridor. In this option, the subway would be at-grade for roughly 1.4 kilometres before having to transition to tunnel again to pass under the GO tracks. It would remain in tunnel, with the station constructed below grade, in the location of the existing bus terminal at Scarborough Centre SRT Station. [p 14]
The Chosen Route
As one reads through the report, there is a sense that the chosen route via McCowan raises severe problems both technical and financial, and that a fallback position may be required, but this is not stated explicitly. The absence of comparative material to evaluate Option 2A against its competitors is particularly annoying in this regard.
Options 2B and 2C are screened out early in the process because an SRT shutdown would be required for the entire project for either route coming into STC along the RT corridor. Of course, the LRT option is already off of the table, although the shutdown it would require is not as extended as that for a subway in the RT corridor.
Although the report is not explicit about this, it is self evident that any combined surface-subway cannot co-exist with the SRT corridor. For a completely tunneled option, unless the tunnel boring access site were somewhere in STC clear of existing structures, this would block the east end of the SRT line, but if the line is entirely in tunnel this defeats the purpose of using the SRT alignment. Any attempt to build the SSE partly on the surface causes too many points of disruption to the SRT that it could stay open for at least part of the project.
In the Strategic Evaluation, these two options come out on top in many ways, notably in the support for development of STC, something which is supposed to be a high priority for this project.
When future development opportunities are considered, Options 2B and 2C presented greater potential to support future growth in Scarborough Centre, as they would allow for the future extension of the subway to the east side of McCowan. Option 2B, like Option 2A, would offer the fastest connection between Kennedy Station and Scarborough Centre, and has the least impact on neighbourhoods. However, both Options 2B and 2C would require the shutdown of the SRT during the full period of construction of the subway, which would be a disincentive to transit riders. [pp 4-5]
The SRT shutdown is the bane of many proposals for Scarborough, including the LRT option.
Bus replacement for the SRT service during the construction period would require 63 additional buses and infrastructure requirements such as a bus facility to accommodate the additional bus fleet, and bus terminal expansions at Scarborough Centre and Kennedy Station. The cost of shutting down the SRT during the construction period would amount to approximately $171 million (YOE/Escalated $). The SRT shutdown would also result in slower and less reliable transit service, which would be likely to deter users from using public transit. As a result of these impacts, Options 2B and 2C were screened out from further consideration in this initial business case due to this key deliverability and operations challenge. [p 5]
Updated: See the note at the top of this article in which I argue that the net cost of the SRT shutdown has been overstated by the TTC because they have not taken into account savings from extended SRT operation, nor the unused capital value of any assets acquired to operate the shuttle service.
A classic problem (it could also be called a “strategy”) found in Environmental Assessments and similar processes is the creation of a straw man argument. In brief, options that you don’t want get screened out and do not receive detailed comparative evaluation. This leaves the “preferred” solution competing against the “base case” which typically is not wanted, and the “preferred” option always does better.
Because Options 2B and 2C (never mind the original LRT option) don’t get a detailed review, we never see comparisons based on other metrics such as the value of extensibility, access to greater markets (residential/commercial/educational) or comparative operating and capital financials. Nor is there any attempt to find a way to build with a shorter effect on the SRT as a tradeoff between the options.
An overwhelming concern of the entire exercise is the importance of the Town Centre as a focus of transit service. For decades, there has been a presence that the “downtowns”of former Etobicoke, North York and Scarborough could be wished into existence by civic pride if nothing else. This view depended on a decline of the central business district in old Toronto, but a problem developed years ago – downtown refused to die, and in fact the growth of GO Transit capacity allowed continued job growth there while residences could sprawl into the 905. In at least the medium term, there is little sign that the development industry will change its preferences, but hope springs eternal and that’s one reason the subway is favoured. The irony is that the chosen route does not serve either Scarborough travel or growth of the STC precinct as well as other options.
A rapid transit connection is also required to improve Scarborough Centre’s connectivity, and is critical to its success as a vibrant urban node and regional gateway. New development in Scarborough Centre will enable the creation of new walkable complete communities. Providing an improved rapid transit connection to Scarborough Centre will encourage businesses and institutions to locate there and will enable people who live there to reach destinations in other regional centres. [p 10]
This may be valid as a general statement, but “improved rapid transit” does not have to be a full-blown subway line.
Travel within Scarborough and from Scarborough to the rest of Toronto is shown in two maps.
- Almost half of the trips originating in Scarborough are destined within that area, and only 23% are headed downtown.
- Trips that originate at STC are much more focused on the core area. This is an interesting, although less than meaningful map because so few residences are at STC. Many more trips flow through STC because it is one of two nodes (the other is Kennedy Station) created in Scarborough as foci for core-bound travel.
A subway will serve trips to downtown well, provided that a rider can get to the subway easily. It will serve trips to STC itself only to the extent that potential outbound riders would originate in the subway’s catchment area. This is not true of a considerable part of Toronto, let alone the 905.
Another example of the effect of the STC focus is an observation that taking the line north to Sheppard could be counterproductive to STC’s development.
The SSE serves the key growth areas around Scarborough Centre and Kennedy Station. Option 1 also has stations along McCowan Road at Lawrence Avenue East and Sheppard Avenue East. The Lawrence East Station is not in or near an employment growth area. While the area on the north side of Sheppard East Station is an employment area, this area is designated as such due to its close proximity to Highway 401 and the rail corridor to the north, making it an important area for lower density industrial uses. Introducing a subway station in this location may bring office development to the area, but strategically, high-density office development should be directed to Scarborough Centre, so connection to Sheppard Avenue East may be detrimental from a Supporting Growth perspective. [p 17]
The report then observes that the north-south alignment would place a station slightly closer to the centroid of the STC precinct, but that the east-west alignment is a better fit for future growth.
Scarborough Centre has significant development potential with the entire Centre designated mixed-use by the Official Plan. In Options 1 and 2A, Scarborough Centre Station would be located 38m closer to the centroid of Scarborough Centre than in Options 2B and 2C (see Figure 8 and 9). The options 1 and 2A station would also be closer to the McCowan Precinct where significant development is expected in the future. This station location would bring slightly more of the Centre within walking distance of a subway station (0.6km2 vs. 0.5km2). The station would be approximately 200m from existing office buildings and development blocks on the east side of McCowan Road. From these perspectives, Options 1 and 2A offer improved proximity to people’s workplaces, and support economic development slightly more than Options 2B and 2C (Figure 9).
The opportunity to extend the SSE in the future due to the station location (Figure 9) represents a significant difference in the options being considered. Due to the North-South orientation of the Scarborough Centre Station in Options 1 and 2A, the subway could be extended north. However, there are no designated mixed-use growth areas most suitable for high-density employment growth north of Highway 401. In contrast, Options 2B and 2C could be extended east with additional stations in the McCowan Precinct of Scarborough Centre and at Centennial College (Progress Campus) east of Scarborough Centre. The increased accessibility that these additional stations provide could incent employment growth in these locations, and present significant strategic benefits of Options 2B and 2C. [p 17]
Options 2B and 2C are preferred from the perspective of Supporting Growth primarily due to the opportunity to provide additional stations within Scarborough Centre in the future. [p 18]
The growth of STC is trumpeted in this statement:
The population of Scarborough Centre more than doubled between 2001 and 2011, expanding at a rate faster than that of either Etobicoke Centre, or Yonge-Eglinton Centre. [p 21]
This is somewhat misleading because the starting point, 2001, saw a very low population in STC, and so a high percentage growth was easy to achieve. The claim does not change the fact that very little development is in the approval pipeline for STC as shown by the City’s own data.
Meanwhile, the importance of Lawrence East Station is downplayed, especially in its new location at McCowan.
The SSE serves the key growth areas around Scarborough Centre and Kennedy Station. Option 1 also has stations along McCowan Road at Lawrence Avenue East and Sheppard Avenue East. Neither of these station areas is within or near residential growth areas. [pp 20-21]
The emphasis on growth at stations ignores the role of feeder services that bring riders from beyond walking distance. This is ironic considering the vitriolic defense of subway proposals with low walk-in traffic compared to the LRT scheme and its additional stations.
For transfer riders, the view of SmartTrack is completely different.
With the future implementation of GO Regional Express Rail (RER) and SmartTrack, GO Stations will also become increasingly important connection points for riders destined for downtown Toronto and elsewhere in the city. [p 23]
But then we learn of transfer traffic at STC itself.
The ability of each option to provide convenient bus transfers is also a consideration from the perspective of Choice. Options 2B and 2C offer better opportunities to accommodate a large bus terminal that does not impinge on development opportunity or the public realm within Scarborough Centre. This bus terminal would be located along Triton Road, in the vicinity of the existing Scarborough Centre Station bus terminal. Options 1 and 2A would require a large bus terminal to be constructed in a new location on land that would otherwise be used for development or public space. [p 24]
It is estimated that compared to the SRT, the SSE would incent between 3100 and 4500 net new daily riders to use transit in 2031. Relative to Option 1, Options 2A, 2B and 2C incent an additional 1400 riders to change their travel mode (mostly auto), which would minimally reduce congestion on roadways in Scarborough or freeing up road capacity for other travellers to make trips. This increase in overall transit system ridership is partly due to an estimated reduction in travel time over the base case (SRT approximately 12 minutes from Scarborough Centre to Kennedy) by up to 5 minutes (which does not include a transfer at Kennedy Station), allowing people to access further locations by transit in less time.
For Options 2A, 2B and 2C, all day boardings at Scarborough Centre Station in 2031 are projected to be approximately 31,000. AM peak hour boardings at Scarborough Centre Station in 2031 are projected to be approximately 7300. Projected AM peak hour boardings are similar to projected AM peak hour boardings at Kipling Station (approximately 6000) and would represent the second highest projected AM peak hour boardings on Line 2 (after Yonge Station and approximately equal to boardings at Kennedy Station).
In Options 2A, 2B and 2C, projected AM peak hour boardings at Scarborough Centre Station are the same as peak point ridership (approximately 7300). In Option 1, the projected peak point ridership in 2031 is approximately 11,100. This peak point ridership would occur between Lawrence East Station and Kennedy Station. Given that overall transit system ridership increases for Options 2A, 2B and 2C, many of the additional projected riders of Option 1 are not lost to the transit system but are projected to use alternate transit routes if the express extension is built. [p 25]
This is a roundabout way of saying that Lawrence East is an important station, but that its would-be users are expected to take an alternate transit route. The nearly 4,000 peak hour riders implied by the difference in projections for each option would consume two full-sized GO trains worth of capacity at Lawrence East SmartTrack station, and that is a considerable chunk of the trains/hour that will operate there.
The many “strategic” metrics for the options are summarized in Table 12, and clearly show Option 2B as the superior choice within this evaluation.
How Much Will This Cost
The original estimate for the three-stop version of the subway was $3.56 billion including inflation, and based on a 2023 opening date.
This has gone up quite substantially due to more accurate technical data, and a 2025 delivery date including both inflation and the cost of keeping the SRT operating longer.
(I will deal with the line to UTSC in a separate article.)
This is a huge increase in only a few months, and one must ask how Council can make an informed decision about anything with such uncertain figures. The estimate class levels cited above are still higher than “3”, the point at which numbers should be used for budget purposes. (This is a scale where a low score is better than a high one.) There is some attempt to explain away these changes.
The Financial Case evaluated the options based on the overall capital costs associated with each option based on approximately 5% design. A high order-of-magnitude operating and maintenance cost estimate was also developed to identify the potential lifecycle costs associated with each option. These estimates will require further refinement, as there is currently no defined service concept and operations plan for the SSE. The preliminary financial case evaluation indicates that Option 2A-McCowan Express to Scarborough Centre is approximately $1.5B ($YOE/Escalated) less than the 3-Stop McCowan subway to Sheppard (Option 1). [p 5]
There may be a $1.5 billion “saving” by building only the one-stop version of the line, but its cost will soak up much of the committed funds requiring a “top up” by the City beyond what it expected to pay.
Escalation is an issue for costs.
Since 2013, design for this project has advanced to approximately 5%. The associated cost estimate has increased by approximately $1B (YOE/Escalated $) more than the original estimate of $3.56B (YOE/Escalated $). This is primarily due to two reasons. First, the subway stations were found to be much more complex than the ‘typical’ stations assumed in the initial estimate. For example, a subway station at Lawrence Avenue East had been assumed to be a typical depth of about 16 metres (the height of a 5-to-6 storey building), but given the topography in that area, the station would actually have to be built about 30 metres below the surface – roughly equivalent to the height of a 10-storey building. The other two stations were also found to require greater depth than originally assumed, though not as dramatic as at Lawrence. In addition, after a thorough assessment was made of the bus services in this area, and how those routes could be modifiedto feed the greatest number of customers directly to these new subway stations, the associated bus terminal designs were much larger than assumed prior to conducted this necessary study. The added station complexity made up about two-thirds of the extra cost.
The remaining 1/3 of the cost estimate increase relates to the project schedule – now estimated to be 2 years later, in late 2025. The current work has been delayed by approximately one year from the original schedule, which estimated that design could begin in summer of 2015. This was primarily due to key tasks that were added to the original schedule such as the City’s development of a new demand forecasting model, and evolving transit plans in Scarborough that resulted in project scope changes. An additional year has also been assumed given the added complexity of the stations, and the potential greater time that could be required due to design-build contracting. The considerable increase in the cost estimate resulting from these factors means the 3-stop approved subway extension is no longer affordable within the approved $3.56B funding envelope. [p 33]
And later …
From a financial case perspective Option 2A- McCowan Express is the preferred option. The $1B cost estimate increase for Option 1 is a 29% increase in the original cost estimate in 2013 when the initial budget ($3.56B, YOE/Escalated $) 3-stop subway extension was approved. The cost of the 3-stop option is now estimated to be $4.6B (YOE/Escalated $), with an opening date of 2025. It should be noted this increase is within the +35% range per industry guidelines; and within the original range identified by TTC in 2013. Option 2A is estimated to cost $3.16 billion (YOE/Escalated $), and falls within the currently approved budget for the SSE project. [p 34]
This paragraph makes the obvious assumption that the entire pool of funds earmarked for Scarborough projects, including the LRT line that was affordable in the “optimized” network, is actually available for the subway extension. There is no acknowledgement that Council approved the full optimized network, not just the subway. Indeed, it was the LRT line that brought some Councillors onside with the package NB.
Although Option 2B scored highest on the strategic points getting almost a perfect score, it foundered on the issue of an SRT shutdown. Without a technical or financial evaluation of this option, we don’t know what might be possible or how it would rank relative to other options.
Another Road to the Town Centre
After a study in which the possible subway alignments were studied extensively, two variations of another option is back on the table. These are the Brimley alignments shown in illustratrations below.
Option 3A is rejected because its use of the SRT corridor through STC station would require an SRT shutdown, and because the curve at Brimley and Ellesmere is constrained by adjacent condos.
Option 3B ends just northeast of Brimley at the entrance to STC, and can be built while the SRT remains active.
These options appear to be “just in case” inclusions in the study, and there is no real sense of the Brimley route being selected. In any event, if Toronto is going to launch an EA soon, then the route (s) under study must be nailed down.
This rather hasty move with SSE options show how easily what looks like a solid proposal can be redefined because someone gets a brain wave.
As a matter of planning strategy, the “3B” study should indicate whether an east-west alignment is possible to stimulate growth, but the City has its heart set on “2A Express via McCowan”.
This has the feeling of a study where “the fix was in” from the outset thanks to the premise that both subway and LRT lines would bebuilt within the available cost budget. Both the LRT option and the two alignments that did not follow McCowan are excluded from detailed conversation. By such methods is real debate stifled, and a plan that could be better in a development and planning sense never gets off of the drawing boards.