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Double the cost should buy us some explanations

JEFF GRAY

April 13, 2009

What's $2-billion between friends?

It seems no one at the TTC or Metrolinx - the province's regional transportation planning body - will explain why the cost of Toronto's proposed Eglinton light-rail line has more than doubled.

The 32.5-kilometre line, with a 10-kilometre tunnel from around Leslie Street in the east to Keele in the west, was originally estimated at $2.2-billion when the TTC unveiled it in 2007.

On April Fool's Day, with a smiling Mayor David Miller clapping vigorously as Premier Dalton McGuinty pledged $9-billion for Toronto-area public transit, the centrepiece Eglinton line's cost had jumped to $4.6-billion. Delirious with the job-creating, pollution-killing transit investment, no one seemed to notice.

Admittedly, cost estimates for transit projects are notoriously slippery. Inflation and the cost of a carhouse to store the new light-rail vehicles are partly to blame for the rising bill. (The overall estimate for the mayor's 122-kilometre Transit City light-rail plan has risen from $6-billion to $10-billion.) But the steep rise for the Eglinton price tag - and the mysterious vagueness that questions about it have prompted - suggests the TTC remains locked in a dispute with Metrolinx over what the Eglinton line will look like.

Last summer, a behind-the-scenes battle erupted as Metrolinx, then drafting its $50-billion 25-year transportation plan, tried to scrap the TTC's partially tunnelled light-rail proposal in favour of using the latest version of the Scarborough RT vehicles.

TTC officials said the faster, higher-capacity line, was unnecessary, and warned it would cost two to three times as much. At the time, Metrolinx chairman Rob MacIsaac ridiculed the TTC's concept as too slow, saying anyone taking it to the airport "better pack a picnic lunch."

One TTC source said at the time the province would never go along with the more expensive Metrolinx plans: "They're not prepared for a collision. They're not prepared to have a whole plan go down in flames over a fight."

Since the Premier's announcement, no one at the TTC has been willing to spell out why the price tag has gone up, saying the province was relying on a Metrolinx estimate. Mr. Miller told reporters last week the original TTC estimates did not include vehicles, which contradicts what the TTC said at the time.

Senior Metrolinx official John Howe said he could not explain the math behind the $4.6-billion number, but said TTC and Metrolinx officials were still analyzing various scenarios for the line.

He said everything, including what vehicles would be used, whether the line would be tunnelled, run in a trench or at grade was still under discussion. (Scarborough RT cars, like subway cars, have an electrified third-rail, and cannot safely be run in the middle of a road without barriers.) The spacing of the stations - farther apart means a faster ride, but closer together means a better transit line for local users - is also undecided.

Clearly, Metrolinx - set up with a suburban bias to solve the Toronto region's transit woes - wants Eglinton to be a regional transit line that whisks you from Pearson Airport all the way to Scarborough and perhaps beyond. The TTC sees it instead as relief for Torontonians tired of waiting in traffic in packed buses along Eglinton.

A report from TTC and Metrolinx engineers due in a few months could tell us the winner - if the Premier, who is after all putting up the $4.6-billion, hasn't decided already.

jgray@globeandmail.com

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There are...engineers working for Metrolinx? Last I heard of it, any engineering input was done via outsourcing to the public sector, where they were asked to evaluate a specific problem on a specific corridor opposed to overseeing the concept of GTA transit as a network.

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The original cost did not include the portion to Pearson. Maybe the new cost reflects the extension?

Unless that extension was completely underground (and even then), I can't see how it would up the price by over a billion dollars.

Dan

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god only knows what this could mean

Work it through. If it's not overspending (e.g. spending too much for the same thing), it's got to be buying more. What would make the Eglinton line legitimately cost more?

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dont know if i like the sound of ART line

Well, that's been the debate. Whether or not that's what is really happening is not clear yet - the Metrolinx meeting that would have heard gotten a report on this has been cancelled, meaning we will at the earliest hear at the end of May.

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Well, that's been the debate. Whether or not that's what is really happening is not clear yet - the Metrolinx meeting that would have heard gotten a report on this has been cancelled, meaning we will at the earliest hear at the end of May.

they need to cut the bs and just start getting the line built

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Would someone please explain to me, without using cost/capacity arguments (which EVERY technology has), what is so wrong with ART that cannot be solved with better design?

Whereas YRT/VIVA has not been an epic fail, could someone also explain to me what is fundamentally wrong with subcontracting operations and maintenance to a private company?

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Great. First we get a bunch of hand-picked private citizens....

What's the problem with this? Until recently, this is how the TTC was run, and it was free (until councillors were placed on the commission board in the early 1980s) of political interferance.

Dan

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Found this article in my weekly Beaches-Riverdale Mirror newspaper today evening.

Leaside property owners have Eglinton LRT questions

Residents concerned about planned distances between stops

By DANIELLE MILLEY

April 16, 2009 12:57 PM

Carol Burtin Fripp was pleased to hear the funding announced for the Eglinton LRT last month, but she still wants some answers before it begins zooming under her neighbourhood.

Burtin Fripp is the chairperson of the Leaside Property Owners' Association's transportation committee. The group has been closely watching the plans to build an LRT along Eglinton from Kennedy Station in the east to Pearson International Airport - even inviting TTC chairperson Councillor Adam Giambrone to the annual general meeting.

But, they still have some concerns and suggestions before a shovel hits the ground.

"We're keen on the line and happy it will be underground, but we want to ensure they're aware of how we depend on being able to get to transit," she said.

The main concern of the association and local residents is that some surface routes be maintained once the LRT line opens.

Burtin Fripp said as the part of the line that is to run through their neighbourhood will be underground, the stops will most likely be further apart than the current bus stops and if there are no surface routes the end result won't be improved transit in the area.

She asked Giambrone about this and he said those details were still being studied.

"What they haven't said is whether they'll still be surface transit on Eglinton," she said. "You don't want to have to walk into Leaside from Bayview and Eglinton."

Burtin Fripp said it would be a concern for the elderly, parents traveling with children, anyone with accessibility issues and most people during the winter.

TTC spokesperson Brad Ross said that is part of the planning details still to be worked out.

"How the surface routes will operate on Eglinton is still to be determined," he said.

The 31-kilometre line is to travel underground from approximately Laird Drive in the east to Keele Street in the west. Construction is to begin next year. Ross said many details are still to be worked out between now and then, including where on the line construction will begin.

Burtin Fripp, who has lived in the area for 40 years, said traffic is bad and is glad something is finally moving forward that can help get people out of their cars. She's heard of other plans before that never went anywhere.

"We have to support whatever will reduce the desirability of using private cars on the street," she said.

There will be more opportunities for local residents to express their concerns and suggestions to TTC staff and planners, Ross said public consultation dates will take place in August.

There is one thing Burtin Fripp isn't too worried about: the construction period.

"Whenever there is construction we know there are periods where certain streets are harder to use," she said, adding people will forgive a bit of discomfort if it's temporary - and if the finished product is an improvement on the current situation.

http://www.insidetoronto.ca/article/67260

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Great. First we get a bunch of hand-picked private citizens, now there is the chance we are getting ART shoved down our throats.

What's next? The line being run by a private consortium?

Is'nt that what Bombardier is trying to propose, eventually, kinda similar to their CN/CP rail arrangement? A build it and run it deal? Of course the current political leadership would never allow it.

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What's the problem with this? Until recently, this is how the TTC was run, and it was free (until councillors were placed on the commission board in the early 1980s) of political interferance.

Dan

The fear is that it can become a cushy seat for some of the Premier's buddies.

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The fear is that it can become a cushy seat for some of the Premier's buddies.

As opposed to now, where it is a cushy seat for buddies of regional chairs and mayors (which are mostly themselves)? Does anyone really think that the November 2010 municipal elections will hold any of the board members accountable for their Metrolinx voting record? What percentage of voters will even recognize that their mayor or regional chair was *on* Metrolinx? And what about those of us with unelected regional chairs on Metrolinx? Are we supposed to hold our regional councillors accountable for the votes made on the Metrolinx board by the regional chair *they* elected? I don't see how this is any real form of accountability as I understand the term.

(Side note: all regional chairs should be directly elected, but until the province forces the issue, some Regional Councils (e.g. Durham) are quite happy with the status quo.)

The reality is that we will almost certainly get a board with political connections, but as long as they have core competencies suitable for being on the board, that shouldn't be a problem. The current GO board does a decent job, for example. No, they won't be accountable except to the government of the day, but that may actually work better than the current structure in that any failure of Metrolinx to get the job done may well become an issue in the next election, at least in terms of it being failure to provide stimulus for the economy.

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The fear is that it can become a cushy seat for some of the Premier's buddies.

And if you make it so that they only have, say, 4 year terms for board members, with a new pair of board members elected every year?

Again, it wasn't a problem with the TTC before the 1980s, so I don't see why it would be a problem now.

Dan

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