Scarborough subway might already be off-track, warns TTC chief
Andy Byford says the $3.2-billion budget and timetable are in danger as city works to finalize route.
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The head of the TTC is warning that the Scarborough subway project that council voted for less than three months ago is already at risk for delays and cost increases.
In an exclusive interview with the Star, Andy Byford said it’s still possible to complete the one-stop extension by 2025 and at a cost of $3.2 billion, “but we’re flagging it’s a red, as in danger.”
“I’m still confident that we’ll meet the deadline,” Byford said, stressing that the transit commission is working daily with city planners to hit the project’s targets. But he added that “the window of opportunity is closing. We have to pin down the exact alignment and stick to it.”
The latest edition of the TTC CEO’s report listed the Scarborough extension’s 2025 in-service date as at-risk, and deadlines for completing an environmental assessment and having council OK the final routing were “tracking behind schedule.” The report says geotechnical, survey, and some design work has been halted pending approval of the final route.
Mayor John Tory has backed the subway extension despite increasing costs and questions about whether it’s the right technology to serve Scarborough. Asked whether Tory believed the project would be built by 2025 for $3.2 billion, his office stated via email: “We are confident that city staff and the TTC are working together to deliver this project on the timetable presented.”
In July, council voted 27-16 to reaffirm its support for a six-kilometre extension of the Line 2 (Bloor-Danforth) subway from Kennedy station to the Scarborough Town Centre, rejecting an attempt to revive plans to build a seven-stop LRT line instead.
The report that informed the vote was authored by the TTC and city planners and estimated that building the subway along a route beneath McCowan Ave. would cost $3.2 billion and could be completed in nine years.
But those targets were already in jeopardy when council voted for the subway. The same report noted that the estimates were based on council picking a route by July, and that any delay could endanger the opening date and lead to extra costs.
Councillors weren’t asked to choose an alignment at the July meeting, and the route is still being studied. Although the report determined that the McCowan alignment scored high on many city criteria, according to chief city planner Jennifer Keesmaat, since July planning staff have been working in conjunction with the TTC to assess alternate routes, including one along Midland Ave. and another along Brimley Rd.
She said that the review of alternatives, which was authorized by council, was motivated by higher-than-expected cost estimates for the McCowan alignment.
In an interview Tuesday, Keesmaat said staff was “still working through the final details” and she couldn’t say which route they would recommend. But she noted that the cheaper Brimley option likely wouldn’t support the city’s objectives, and the Midland alternative appeared too costly.
Keesmaat said staff intends to report back to council in December with a recommended route, which is in line with the TTC’s schedule for the project. Asked whether she believed that the subway extension would be built for $3.2 billion, Keesmaat responded the cost estimate had been provided by the TTC.
“Those aren’t our numbers,” she said, adding that estimates for the price of the subway are currently being reviewed by an independent engineering firm. As for whether the 2025 completion date was realistic, Keesmaat said staff have “been expediting this project at an exceptional pace” and “we have no reason to believe that timeline is not accurate.”
But she added that “the reality is there is a whole series of incremental decisions” that council needs to make to complete the project. “Does that affect timelines? Absolutely.”
Councillor Josh Matlow, who introduced the unsuccessful motion to revive the LRT plan, argued that based on the information presented to council, completing the Scarborough extension by 2025 was never achievable.
“We knew that then, it shouldn’t come to anyone as a surprise now,” said Matlow, who represents Ward 22 (St. Paul’s).
He expressed frustration that the report from the TTC and city planning didn’t spell out more clearly that the cost and timeline for the project were based on confirming a preferred route in July.
“I just question why that (2025) timeline would have even been in the report in the first place given that it was impossible to ever achieve,” he said. “Staff’s most important role is to provide clear, objective, factual, evidence-based advice to the mayor and council . . . I think it’s fair to say in this case, that wasn’t done.”
The estimated cost of the one-stop Scarborough extension has already ballooned from an earlier projection of $2 billion. In June, the mayor’s office announced that the price had jumped to $2.9 billion, and it was later revealed that the cost of maintaining the Scarborough RT during the subway’s construction would add almost $300 million to the bill.
Byford’s warnings about the Scarborough extension come on the heels of a consultant report that found the TTC’s oversight of capital projects was below the standards of a public sector organization.
Byford said that he accepts that the TTC has to improve its management of capital work and is already taking steps to do so. But he also argued that in the past the agency has been unfairly criticized for cost overruns that are outside of its control, including instances in which politicians have added expensive elements to transit projects after their initial approval.
As an example, he cited to the Yonge-University-Spadina subway extension, whose original budget of $1.5 billion eventually soared to $3.2 billion. While there were overruns related to delays and contractor claims, most of the higher cost was a result of governments vastly increasing the project’s scope by adding 2.4 kilometres and three stops to the extension.
Byford said that if the planning process delays the Scarborough project’s completion and leads to higher costs, he wanted to avoid another instance in which the TTC is left “carrying the can” for overruns that were not its fault.
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