Tracking Metrolinx Project Costs

The Province of Ontario is not exactly transparent when it comes to reconciliation of announced project costs and actual spending, let along the changes that might occur along the way. A project, or group of projects, might be announced with a value in then-current dollars, and without necessarily including all future contract costs. There are various reasons behind this approach including:

  • The government does not want to tip its hand on the amount of money “on the table” to prospective bidders who might tailor their bid to the perceived level of funding.
  • Some contracts include future operating and maintenance costs as well as capital costs. In some case the announced cost does not include the O&M component, only the estimated capital portion.
  • Provincial projects are typically quoted in then-current dollars with future inflation to be added as it occurs, at least to the point where there is a contract in place which includes that provision.

This approach hides the likely as-spent costs and makes provincially run projects appear cheaper, at least in the short run.

This is fundamentally different from the way the City of Toronto tracks projects and how TTC requirements are reported. Specifically:

  • City project cost estimates include inflation to completion because this is factored into future funding requirements.
  • City projects do not bundle future operating costs with capital, but report them separately.

Note that cost estimates shown in the Infrastructure Ontario market reports do not necessarily match values shown by Metrolinx because IO shows these values on a different basis. Future operating and financing costs are no longer included in IO estimates so that a project’s value reflects only design and construction costs, a value that gives potential construction bidders a general size of the project’s scope.

Infrastructure Ontario notes on the November 2022 Market Update that we have modified the methodology used to calculate the estimated costs as presented on the chart. In May 2022, and for Market Updates prior to that, we used the Estimated Total Capital Costs. For the latest update, and going forward, the costs listed only include Design and Construction costs.

These changes were adopted after feedback from our construction industry partners found that including only design and construction costs provided them with a better sense of the scope of the project and would assist in determining if they wished to participate in the bidding process.

Email from Ian McConachie, Infrastructure Ontario, Manager, Media Relations & Communications, November 24, 2022.

This can be confusing with “bundled” projects such as the Ontario Line RSSOM contract which includes both provision/construction of vehicles and infrastructure, as well as future O&M costs. This is probably the reason, or a good chunk of it, for the very large increase in the RSSOM contract value between the initial estimate cited by IO and the contract award. However, the way these contracts are handled generally makes it impossible to know how much of the change is simply due to inflation in materials and labour costs, and how much is due to underestimates or scope changes.

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TTC 2023 Annual Service Plan, Round 2

The TTC recently launched public consultation for its 2023 Annual Service Plan (ASP).

This is the second round following preliminary sessions in June-July. The planners reviewed overall goals in light of changing demand patterns and system-wide rerouting associated with the closing of Line 3 SRT and opening of Line 6 Finch West. (The network changes for Line 5 Eglinton Crosstown were dealt with in the 2022 ASP, although there has been slight tweaking.)

Some of the 2022 Plan’s proposals have not yet been implemented, although they remain on the books as “approved”:

  • 8 Broadview: Extension south from O’Connor to Coxwell Station
  • 118 Thistle Down: Extension northwest to Claireport Crescent
  • 150 Eastern: A new route from downtown to Woodbine Loop (on hold due to potential construction disruptions)

See also:

In 2023, there are considerably more proposed changes than in 2022, and for the purpose of consultation the TTC broke the system into segments. Each of these is detailed later in this article.

Consultation is now underway with the following planned schedule:

  • October-November: Public consultation. (See schedule above.)
  • Late 2022/Early 2023: Councillor briefings
  • February 2023: Final report to the TTC Board
  • Spring 2023: Implementation begins
  • Through 2023: Five Year Service Plan “reset” continues

The 2023 Annual Service Plan web page includes a deck of panels that will be used for the consultations. In this article, some maps are taken from that deck, and some from presentations to community groups.

An online consultation is available from October 25 to November 6.

One key point we will not know until late 2022 or even early 2023 will be the TTC’s budget target. How will this shape service changes, be they additions, re-allocations or cuts? Mayor Tory talks about supporting transit, but we will see just what this means when he tables the City’s 2023 budget.

Note: I have not included all of the information posted by the TTC here, and I urge readers to review the presentation panels and any other information the TTC publishes as this process goes on.

Although this article is open for comment, is you have specific concerns and wish to participate in the consultation process, be sure to complete the TTC’s survey or otherwise communicate your feelings to the TTC. I am not the TTC Planning Department, and grousing to me, or proposing your own maps here will not feed into the process.

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A Walk On New Cherry Street

Out of sight of most in Toronto, the mouth of the Don River has been transformed by Waterfront Toronto with earth moving and landscaping on a scale rarely seen in these parts. The work will shift the Don River’s course and provide floodproofing for a large area to be developed under the name “Villiers Island” after a street in the northern edge of the district.

Cherry Street will shift to the west the equivalent of a short city block, and the New Cherry will eventually have a branch of the Waterfront East streetcar service if the City ever gets around to financing and building it.

Three new bridges were built in Nova Scotia by Cherubini Metal Works. Waterfront Toronto has an article about the design process and, of course, many articles and photos of the overall project. The map below shows the positioning of the three bridges.

The bridges share a common design, but each is unique in its own way.

  • The Cherry Street North bridges, one for road traffic and one for transit, will connect the New Cherry Street across the Keating Channel to a reconfigured Cherry and Queens Quay intersection. Eventually, there will be streetcars on a realigned Queens Quay East as well as south from Distillery Loop connecting to New Cherry. These bridges are red.
  • The Cherry Street South Bridge is a road bridge over the future river connecting New Cherry to the existing road at Polson Street. This bridge is yellow. Depending on the route taken by the new streetcar service, there could be a loop somewhere north of the Ship Channel. If so, the Cherry South bridge will gain a transit twin like the north bridge.
  • The Commissioners Street bridge carries Commissioners Street over the future path of the river. Because of its length, it is a double span. This bridge is orange. Like the Cherry South bridge, it could gain a twin set of spans for transit if trackage is ever extended east from New Cherry either to an extended Broadview Avenue or further east to Leslie Barns at Commissioners & Leslie.

The new river is not yet flooded and so there is water in the old Polson Slip west of the Cherry South Bridge, but the riverbed east and north of there is completely dry as work to prepare it continues.

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Eglinton Crosstown Delayed (Again)

In what must be the most anti-climactic news on the planet, Phil Verster, Metrolinx President and CEO, has announced that the Eglinton Crosstown Line 5 will not open as planned. I will let Metrolinx speak for themselves.

Statement regarding the Eglinton Crosstown LRT

Sept. 23, 2022

Today, Metrolinx President & CEO Phil Verster issued the following statement:

We had expected the Eglinton Crosstown LRT to be fully built, thoroughly tested, and in service this fall in accordance with our project agreement with Crosslinx Transit Solutions, the construction consortium responsible for building the project.

Unfortunately, while progress has been made, Crosslinx Transit Solutions have fallen behind schedule, are unable to finalize construction and testing, and therefore the system will not be operational on this timeline.

We know construction has been difficult for commuters, communities, and businesses along the Eglinton corridor. We are doing everything to hold Crosslinx Transit Solutions accountable and to redouble efforts to meet their commitments and complete the work quickly so we can welcome riders onto a complete, tested, and fully operational Eglinton Crosstown LRT as soon as possible.

Source: Metrolinx Blog

Anyone who has followed the construction project, to the degree it is visible at street level, would have trouble believing the line would be ready in 2022. Only a week ago, the project’s Twitter account announced that they had just finished structural steel at Eglinton Station. This is nowhere near the same as putting the last touch of paint on a building.

The TTC budgeted for a first quarter 2023 startup with training in advance, but that date sounds iffy considering Verster made no mention of a handover date from the builder, let along commissioning and opening the line.

If only Metrolinx were less secretive, less inclined to give us only “good news”, there would be more trust in their breathless announcements for all projects, not just Eglinton.

The key question, however, is not “when will it open”, but “how long has Metrolinx known”.

TTC Board Meeting: July 14, 2022

The TTC Board held its last scheduled meeting of the current term on July 14. Barring an emergency requiring a special meeting, the next regular meeting will follow reconstitution of the Board after the municipal election in the Fall.

Some items on the agenda have already been covered in previous articles:

This article covers:

  • The CEO’s Report
  • Outsourcing of non-revenue automotive vehicle and equipment maintenance
  • Automatic Train Control for Line 1 Yonge-University
  • Five and ten year service plans
  • Transit network expansion update

I will review the Green Bus program update in a separate article.

CEO’s Report

The CEO’s Report contains many charts purporting to show the operation of the system. Unfortunately some of these hide as much as they tell by giving a simplistic view of the system.

I have already written about the wide discrepancy between actual short turning of vehicles and the reported number. A distortion this major calls into question the accuracy and honesty of other metrics in the report.

In a future article, I will turn to the appropriateness of various metrics, but here are some key areas:

  • Averages do not represent conditions riders experience. Data that are consolidated across hours, days, locations and routes hide the prevalence of disruptions. Service that is fairly good on average can be terrible for riders who try to use it at the wrong time.
  • Values for some metrics are reported with capped charts that show only that a target is met, but not by how much it was exceeded. This gives no indication of the room to improve the target value, nor of the variation that could make a higher target difficult to achieve consistently.
  • Reliability is shown only for vehicles that actually operate in service, but there is no measure of actual fleet utilization and the headroom for service growth using available buses, streetcars and subway trains.

In discussion of the report, Commissioner Carroll noted that the TTC still has a problem with on time performance for streetcars. CEO Rick Leary replied that there is an On Time Performance team who are looking at details including recognition that there are three types of routes: those that run well, those affected by construction and those with other problems.

Carroll replied that people are quick to complain about King Street and wondering why they are still waiting for the 504. The TTC says that construction is the reason, but do they have a strategy to deal with bunching and communicate with riders. Management replied that they have strategies for keeping riders informed during planned diversions, but for unplanned emergencies there are service alerts. Changes are coming and service should improve.

This discussion was frustrating to hear because, first off, the central part of 504 King between Dufferin and Parliament is not affected by construction. Only the outer ends in Parkdale/Roncesvalles and on Broadview have (or had until recently) bus shuttles. As for keeping riders informed, irregular service plagues all routes in the system as I have documented in articles here many times. The problem is line management, or the absence of it.

On another topic, Carroll noted that the TTC seems to have a lower standard for the condition of stations than it does for vehicles, or at least tracks the latter at more detail. Leary replied that a summer blitz using student workers will scrub down all stations to bring the system back to a better quality for riders returning in the Fall.

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TTC 2023 Annual Service Plan Preview

The TTC began consultations for its 2023 Service Plan on June 29 with a pair of online meetings for community groups, and more will follow. There will be an online survey available starting on July 11.

At this point, the Service Plan is only a collection of proposals. The TTC seeks feedback on them that will lead to a revised version in the fall and a second consultation round before they go to the TTC Board for approval. The round one proposals relate mainly to the SRT shutdown in fall 2023 and the opening of Line 6 Finch West. In the second round, these proposals will be fine-tuned and other possible changes unrelated to the rapid transit plans will be added.

2022 Service Plan Follow-Up

Some service changes proposed in the 2022 plan have been implemented, and others will follow later this year:

  • Seasonal service on the new 172 Cherry Beach route (replacing the former 121 Front-Esplanade bus) was implemented in May, but the planned route through the Distillery District was impossible due to construction on Cherry at Lake Shore.
  • 65 Parliament will be extended to George Brown College’s Waterfront Campus in September. There is no word on an extension of the 365 Parliament Blue Night bus which originally was going to be dropped. The 365 lost its weekend service in 2021, but that was recently restored.
  • The 118 Thistledown extension to Claireport & Albion and the 8 Broadview extension to Coxwell Station will occur later in the fall, date TBA.

With the completion of the Line 1 Automatic Train Control project later this year, the TTC will be able to improve service on the subway. However, just what this means depends on the base against which “improvement” is measured.

  • There is a planned service improvement in September. Current service is not running at pre-pandemic levels, and we do not yet know if September will see a full restoration.
  • ATC will provide two benefits: trains can run closer together, but also travel times can be trimmed to reduce the number of trains needed. The degree that each of these will show up in new schedules remains to be seen. A related problem is that more frequent service can compound with excess running time to worsen terminal approach queues driving up travel time for riders.

Overall system ridership was at 57 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in June 2022 and is expected to rise to 70 percent in the fall. The TTC is finalizing their fall service plan to accommodate some return to in person office travel and post secondary demand. They plan to restore services to post secondary schools that were cut because of online courses. Details TBA.

There is no announced date for the opening of Line 5 Crosstown by Metrolinx, and so the planned route restructuring to support that line will likely not occur in 2022.

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Transit Expansion Update, June 2022

This article reviews two reports on City Council’s agenda of June 15, 2022:

The subjects here are primarily the Ontario Line and the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension. The Eglinton East and Waterfront LRTs were discussed in a previous article.

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Broadview Avenue Extension Open House

The City of Toronto is completing an Environmental Assessment for the extension of Broadview Avenue south to Commissioners Street. Upcoming events:

  • June 20, 2022 6:30 to 8:30 pm: In person open house at the Jimmie Simpson Centre, 870 Queen Street East
  • June 21, 2022 6:30 to 8:30 pm: Online open house (the link to join is on the Public Consultation page)
  • July 7, 2022: Report to the Infrastructure & Environment Committee
  • July 19, 2022: Council

The project website contains assorted information including a presentation deck. This article is an abridged version of that presentation plus my own comments.

Context for the Extension

The lands east of the Don River, south of Eastern Avenue and north of Lake Shore Boulevard were for many years the site of a Lever Bros. factory, now known as the Unilever site. Massive redevelopment of this property was proposed first by Great Gulf, and more recently by Cadillac Fairview who now own it. Right in the middle of the site is the future East Harbour Station of the Ontario Line and GO Transit.

The Broadview extension will run under East Harbour Station, and an extended streetcar network will be part of the transit hub there.

This map includes some items that do not yet exist, and some that are unlikely to be built.

  • Broadview south from Queen to Eastern (yellow) would be rebuilt with streetcar tracks in mixed traffic just as on Broadview north of Queen.
  • The intersection of Broadview & Eastern will be reconfigured to provide a transition to reserved streetcar lanes, and to improve pedestrian safety.
  • Broadview south from Eastern to Lake Shore would be rebuilt to include a transit right-of-way. It is not clear that this is a logical stopping point for construction without continuing south to Commissioners.
  • The map shows Broadview extending south across the Ship Channel to Unwin including a loop for streecars beside the Hearn Generating Station. This would require a new bridge over the channel that could provide clearance for large ships as the existing bridge at Cherry does today.
  • The map also shows track on Commissioners from Cherry to Leslie, but it is not clear how soon the link east of Broadview would actually be built.
  • Cherry Street trackage would be extended south meeting up with the Waterfront East line at Queens Quay and continuing south to the Port Lands. The map shows a loop at the Ship Channel, but it is possible that the terminus will actually be north of the new river channel on Villiers Island.

Design options for each segment of the extension are shown below.

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Eglinton East & Waterfront LRT Update

On June 15, 2022, City Council debated a report about future LRT lines in the Waterfront and on Eglinton Avenue East. As with all transit discussions transit discussions, other topics including the Sheppard West subway made an appearance. A short staff presentation added a few more details about problems at Kennedy Station that triggered changes in the Eglinton East proposal.

The Changing Configuration of the Scarborough Subway Extension and LRT

Some of the issues at Kennedy Station arise from changes made over the years in the Scarborough Subway Extension (SSE) project effecting the alignment and size of the subway tunnel. The staff presentation did not explore all of this history, but one cannot really understand what has happened without all of the details.

The City talks of Metrolinx deciding to widen the subway structure, but the story is more complicated.

The original plan for Kennedy Station (when the Scarborough network was LRT-based under Transit City) would have seen the new LRT station immediately north of and adjacent to the subway station. It would have been a multi-level station given the number of lines it would serve.

  • The bottom level, at the same elevation as the subway platform, would have served the Crosstown (Line 5). This would have provision for eastward extension under the GO corridor and then surfacing in Eglinton Avenue as the Scarborough-Malvern LRT line (now known as the Eglinton East LRT, or EELRT).
  • The upper level, at the same elevation as the mezzanine of the subway station and one below the surface bus loop, would have served the LRT replacement for the SRT (SLRT). There would have been a large loop and loading platform at the north side of the mezzanine somewhat like the arrangement at Spadina Station for the 510 Spadina streetcar, but considerably larger given the passenger volumes and size of trains that would operate on the SLRT.

This configuration would give a short transfer connection to the subway via the mezzanine up one and then down one level for the Crosstown, or simply across the mezzanine from the SLRT and down one level to the subway. Connections to surface bus routes would not change.

Drawings for this design are in the following article from July 2016:

Here is a cross section showing the platforms for the SLRT and Crosstown stacked west of the GO corridor, and the SMLRT to the east. It was already in its own station and shows a two-car train rather than a three-car train for the Crosstown and SLRT.

When the City proposed the SSE, the extension included a third track east of Kennedy Station that would be used to short turn half of the peak period service similar to what was done at Glencairn Station on the Spadina leg of Line 1 in pre-pandemic service. This scheme also had the advantage that it could be operated with the existing fleet of T-1 trains on Line 2, and for time there were plans to rebuild these trains for life to 2040 to avoid a new car order.

This is an example of the budgetary machinations needed to keep TTC spending within unrealistic City targets.

Scarborough Councillors and activists objected to getting only half of the full service, and the third track was deleted from the plan. This made the tunnel narrower, and that was the version of the project Metrolinx inherited in the provincial takeover of the SSE.

Subsequently, Metrolinx reinstated the third track causing the tunnel to widen again. (Any decision on the future service plan will affect the size of the new train order when the T-1 fleet is replaced later in the 2020s.)

Meanwhile, with the deletion of the SLRT from the plan, Metrolinx changed the elevation of the Crosstown station to be at the mezzanine level as they no longer had to provide for an SLRT interchange. The EELRT, if built as an extension of the Crosstown, would cross under the GO corridor at Mezzanine level and then rise to the surface.

However, the widened subway tunnel does not give enough room for the EELRT tunnel above it, although obviously if this had been designed as a single structure that would not have been an issue. A good example is St. George Station which houses two lines within a single structure. This shows what happens when the province designed its own projects, and the City dropped the ball on necessary integration because the EELRT was much less important politically than the SSE.

As an alternative scheme, a completely separate tunnel would be needed along the north side of Eglinton for the EELRT. This would be built cut-and-cover given how close to the surface it would have to be, and this would mean the acquisition and demolition of many properties along Eglinton.

As I reported in a previous article, the EELRT station at Kennedy will now be on the surface south of Eglinton and East of the GO corridor. It will share access to the subway and the Crosstown line via the existing tunnel to the station mezzanine. No details beyond the drawing below have been provided yet.

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Waterfront LRT Update, June 2022

This is the second article in a series of transit project updates. See also:

Toronto’s Executive Committee will consider reports updating the status of various projects at its meeting of June 8, 2022 including:

The section of this report covering the Waterfront projects is a tad on the threadbare side compared to previous iterations such as the presentation almost a year ago. With luck there will be more detail in presentation materials at the meeting.

The report text implies that there have been design changes but does not go into details. One might hope for additional information when staff presents the report.

Cherry Street

At the eastern end, the Waterfront line is projected to end on Cherry somewhere on Villiers Island. It is not clear whether the southern terminus of the WELRT on Cherry will be north or south of the new river. Some reports and drawings talk of the line going south of Villiers Island to the ship channel, but the current report talks of a new loop within Villiers Island itself (i.e. north of the new river). Note that the map above includes an arrow showing a potential extension south over the new river as well as east on Commissioners.

Wherever the new loop is, it will replace the existing Distillery Loop which conflicts with the new alignment for the streetcar tracks and underpass at the GO corridor. The old Cherry Street signal tower, a remnant of the days when the rail corridor was operated with manual switchgear, will be shifted east from its current location south of Distillery Loop to accommodate the new tracks.

For those unfamiliar with the area, Cherry Street will have three water crossings. From north to south on the map above:

  1. At the Keating Channel, a pair of new bridges (one for road traffic, one for LRT) are located west of the existing Cherry Street crossing. The LRT bridge is in place, and the road bridge immediately to the west will soon follow.
  2. The new outlet of the Don River is under construction, but still dry. If the WELRT goes south to the ship channel, there will have to be an LRT span here just as at the Keating Channel. The road bridge is in place waiting for New Cherry Street to be completed to connect with it.
  3. At the Ship Channel, Cherry Street will veer east back to its current alignment and use the existing bascule bridge. There is no intention for the LRT line to cross this channel.

A two-span bridge takes Commissioners Street over the future Don River (outside of the map above). Today, there is only a road span in place, high and dry over the new riverbed. When and if the Broadview streetcar extension to Commissioners is built along with an east-west link from Cherry to Broadview (and maybe beyond to Leslie Barns), then a transit bridge will be added.

There is a video on Waterfront Toronto’s media site with a May 2022 flyover of the project.

The new alignment for Cherry Street is now under construction.

Cost Containment

The currently projected cost for the WELRT is over $2-billion 2021$. Various design options for both the underground and surface portion of the line are under review, but there are few details of this work in the report.

A value engineering exercise is underway by the TTC which includes consideration of scope refinements, such as a refined 4-platform solution at Union Station and some improvements to the Ferry Terminal Station at Queens Quay. [p. 14]

Queens Quay East

There are still plans to fill part of the Yonge Street slip, and the report mentions a future park east of the skip. However, it is silent on the scheme to reorient the entrance of the Harbour Castle hotel to face east toward the slip.

Parliament Slip will also be partly filled and this will allow the WELRT to continue straight east on the new alignment of Queens Quay to reach New Cherry Street. This is intended to become a major destination in the eastern harbour.

Construction Phasing and Co-ordination

The WELRT be built in an area that already is a major construction site for projects including the Ontario Line, the GO corridor expansion, and the realignment of the Gardiner/DVP connection.

Still outstanding is the question of building and opening the new streetcar route across Queens Quay first so that it can operate independently of the Bay Street tunnel and the planned extended closure for reconstruction at Union and Queens Quay Stations.

The Next Round

A Stakeholders’ meeting is planned for June 20, and these usually precede a wider public consultation round. There are many questions to be answered about just which options are now on the table.

The next major report by the project will be to the new Council in the second quarter of 2023 as part of a wider review of Waterfront revitalization. By that time, design work will be at the 30% level for whatever option staff will recommend.

One obvious challenge for this and many other projects is that funding to build them is not in place, and they will compete with other priorities for attention.