Infrastructure Ontario October 2021 Update

Infrastructure Ontario (IO) has issued its project status update for fall 2021 together with an overview letter from their CEO, Michael Lindsay.

Little has changed in the transit projects, but IO and Metrolinx are shifting away from their original, much-ballyhooed model where public contract risk was minimized by a transfer to the private sector. Instead there is more talk about collaboration and mechanisms to make contracts more palatable to would-be bidders. It is no secret that a few years ago a major firm refused to bid on Metrolinx work on the proposed terms.

Building on the experience of the collaborative Alliance model in use for the Union Station Enhancement Project, IO’s partnership with Metrolinx to expand the GTHA’s network of public transit continues to advance and evolve. Last month, Metrolinx and IO launched the RFQ for the Scarborough Subway Extension – Stations, Rail, and Systems project, introducing a Progressive Design-Build approach. Like the Progressive P3 procurement strategy being introduced on hospital projects, the subway extension procurement includes the benefits of working with a partner on design work, addressing and avoiding considerable contract risk prior to signing a final contract to deliver the project. Following considerable discussion and consultation with industry, this complex, multi-billion-dollar project will be contracted as a targeted price versus the fixed price of our P3 models.

Like our contract packaging strategy for both Scarborough Subway Extension and Eglinton Crosstown West Extension, we expect to take a multi-package staged approach of delivering the Yonge North Subway Extension. That work would begin with an advance tunnels package that we expect to be procured using a classic DBF contract. Pending government approval, our hope is to have the RFQ for that procurement in market early next year.

Letter from Michael Lindsay, CEO of IO, October 14, 2021

The update contains projects from multiple ministries and agencies, and I have extracted the transit projects in the table linked below. This table shows the status of each project as it appears in the quarterly IO updates with the current changes highlighted in yellow.

Changes in this interation are:

  • The structure of the Scarborough Subway Extension has been changed from “TBD” to “Progressive Design Build” where first a partner is chosen with a Development Phase Agreement, and then a Project Agreement once design reaches the point of locking in the construction phase. Note that “Design Build” does not include operation and maintenance as the SSE will be part of the TTC’s subway system.
  • The Yonge North Subway Extension to Richmond Hill has slipped slightly for issuance of the Request for Qualifications and of the Request for Proposals, but this is offset by moving the contract award up from Fall to Summer 2023.

Several GO Transit projects are listed for award in 2021, but they have not yet been announced.

Beyond the works already in progress, no transit projects are up for award before Fall 2022. This means that if the Ford government is re-elected, they will have batch of ready-to-go announcements, but if not, there would be a last ditch chance to review some contracts either as to content (project details) or future operating principles (private vs public). Whether a Liberal or NDP government (or a coalition) would do this remains to be seen.

Ontario Line Downtown Segment: Consultation Follow-Up

Updated October 14, 2021 at 12:50 am: Metrolinx’ responses to the absence of material on Osgoode Station, and of the suggestion of “ballot stuffing” have been added.

After the recent online consultation session for the Downtown Segment of the Ontario Line (Osgoode to Corktown), several issues came to mind and I wrote to Metrolinx for clarification. They have not yet answered most of them.

The Depth and Complexity of Queen Station

The cross-section for Queen Station included in the presentation shows an Ontario Line deep underground. This station is deeper than the City Hall Station on the Relief Line which was located immediately west of Yonge Street.

Ontario Line

Queen Yonge Cross Section Looking North, Ontario Line. Source: Metrolinx

Relief Line

City Hall Station Cross Section Looking North, Relief Line. Source: Relief Line South Detailed Design

These two drawings are not at the same scale. The illustration below clips portions of each with scales adjusted to match. In both designs, the new structure leaves a gap below the existing station for structural support. However, with the Ontario Line directly under the Yonge Line, the concourse level (one above platform level) cannot share the same vertical “slice” that the Relief Line, offset from the Yonge Line, uses. This forces a deeper station than would otherwise be needed.

Metrolinx claims that transfer times between the two stations are actually shorter for the Ontario Line than the Relief Line, but this is hard to believe considering that OL riders must walk east or west at the concourse level just to reach an escalator upward from what would have been platform level on the Relief Line.

Note that in both cases, the level of the passageway under Queen Station (the remains of a never-used Yonge Station on a Queen line) connect to the circulation system of the new station. It is not clear, however, that the capacity of the existing passage, stairs and escalators is up to the potential level of transfer traffic. That problem is common to either design.

What Is Happening at Osgoode Station?

The meeting announcement clearly states that Osgoode Station would be up for discussion. This is a controversial site where Metrolinx plans to build a new entrance and access shaft where there is now a grove of trees on the northeast corner of Queen Street and University Avenue at Osgoode Hall. See: Ontario Line v Osgoode Hall. Trees on main streets downtown, let alone on an historic site, are not exactly common, and the Metrolinx plan verges on civic vandalism.

In particular, there is a proposal floating around at City Hall to substantially reconfigure University Avenue by extending the east sidewalk (shown below) into the northbound roadway. The trees at Osgoode Hall are an integral part of the new design.

This locations of station entrances for the Ontario Line are different than in the original Relief Line plans because the OL station box is shifted west. (See the article linked above for detailed layouts.) The Relief Line station ran from just west of University to York, with a new expanded entrance on the southwest corner at University and a completely new entrance at York and Queen. The Ontario Line station runs from west of Simcoe to University with new entrances through the Osgoode Hall lands and through an old bank on the southwest corner of Queen and Simcoe.

This is a controversial subject, and Osgoode Station was included in the announced meeting agenda. This agenda is still online on the meeting page. Clearly when this meeting was announced Metrolinx intended to include Osgoode Station.

That page now claims:

The presentation focused on timely updates for Queen, Moss Park and Corktown Stations. While this presentation did not feature an update on Osgoode Station, the panel welcomed and responded to questions about all four stations within the segment.

That is flatly not true. A few people asked about Osgoode Station’s absence from the presentation, but there was no substantive discussion because no material was presented.

Metrolinx has not yet posted any replies to the questions submitted online, but there is an added wrinkle in that regard. There had been a popular question about Osgoode Hall that ranked third on the list on September 28.

By October 12, this question had gained more support, but also a large number of down-votes pushing it well down the list. One might speculate that this is a question Metrolinx would prefer not to answer. In this age of challenged votes, we cannot tell whether any ballot-stuffing was involved. (See Metrolinx’ reply at the end of this section.)

I asked Metrolinx about Osgoode Station’s absence from the actual agenda, and here is their reply:

The Ontario Line virtual open house on October 7 did focus on the Downtown segment, which includes Osgoode, Queen, Moss Park and Corktown Stations. However, similar to other open houses we have hosted across the alignment, we did not feature an update on all stations in the segment.

As you noted, we did not include new information about Osgoode Station in the October 7 presentation. There are a few reasons we did not cover Osgoode in the presentation. First and foremost, we did not have significant updates to share about the station. Additionally, we aim to keep the presentations to 30-minutes to allow ample time for questions. Given that we had substantial updates to cover for all of the three other stations but not for Osgoode, we did not explicitly highlight this station during the presentation. Nonetheless, we welcomed questions related to all Downtown stations and will post responses for any questions we did not get to answer during the live event in the coming weeks. 

We look forward to bringing new updates and more information to the community about all stations across the Ontario Line as they are available. We also always welcome questions and feedback via email, phone, and social media. Anyone interested in learning more about any station can also visit our website or book a meeting with a community relations team member.

Email from Caitlin Docherty, Community Relations & Issues Specialist – Ontario Line, October 12, 2021

To have no update on a controversial station site, if only to say “we have some ideas and we’re working on it”, suggests avoidance, not merely a desire for brevity. Moreover, there was no suggestion during the meeting of an alternate date when that site could be discussed.

This is not a trivial issue both in its own right, and because Metrolinx operates to a clock ticking quickly and inexorably on a compressed approval timetable. Delaying discussion makes real debate, let alone the possibility of modification, more difficult.

It is all very well to suggest that people can contact Metrolinx one-on-one, but this is not the same as a published community meeting where whatever claims Metrolinx makes are public and can be challenged. Even in public meetings, Metrolinx makes statements that can be charitably described as misinformed. They can claim to have “consulted”, ticking off a box in the legislated process, but without a public check on their accuracy.

Updated October 14, 2021 at 12:50 am:

Metrolinx has replied further:

Consultation is absolutely planned once we have new significant updates to share for Osgoode. During the virtual open house, we welcomed questions related to all Downtown stations and will post responses for any questions we did not get to answer during the live event in the coming weeks. 

I want to be very direct with the second half of your email. Metrolinx does not manipulate the votes in any way on Metrolinx Engage. We use the votes to gauge community interest and determine which questions we will have time to answer.

Email from Daryl Gonsalves, Community Relations & Issues Specialist – Ontario Line, October 14, 2021

I will take this at face value, but it is clear that somebody really didn’t want to have a discussion about the trees at Osgoode Hall.

More Questions

The following questions to Metrolinx await answers.

Queen Station

  1. At Queen Station, you stated that the transfer with Line 1, although obviously deep vertically, is shorter than from the originally proposed City Hall station on the Relief Line South. This is hard to believe. Can you explain further?
  2. Was there any reason for the change in the OL elevation other than the geometric constraint at Yonge caused by shifting the station eastward?
  3. From a construction point of view at Queen Station do you plan to dig two shafts down east and west of Yonge, and then mine inward from the sides?
  4. With the station at Yonge now being an entire level below the RL plan, what does this do to elevations at Osgoode and Moss Park compared to the original RL designs?

Moss Park Station

  • At Moss Park Station, you talked about meeting the fire code while only having one exit building. I have been trying to figure out the plan in the presentation deck. Am I right in thinking that there are two separate sets of vertical access from the common lobby area leading to different parts of the station? How do you achieve compliance with only a single exit point? This was a known advance question and simply including a station plan would have answered this.

Corktown Station Construction Effects

  • There was a passing reference re the construction disruption at Corktown where you talked about the possibility that the tunnel will be one straight bore from Corktown to Exhibition rather than two separate ones east and west of Yonge Street.
    1. Is this a decision being left to the south tunnels bidders? It obviously has significant effects on construction staging and the length of disruption at Corktown.
    2. On a related note, how do you plan to construct the segment between Corktown and the portal west of the Don River?

Station Finishes

  • There was a question about station finishes where the answer quickly pivoted to the joys of above-ground stations and sunlight. This has nothing to do with downtown, underground stations. Do you plan simple bare concrete stations for the Ontario Line or not?