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Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong is concerned soaring costs at Union Station will also occur with the Scarborough subway plan. (Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong is concerned soaring costs at Union Station will also occur with the Scarborough subway plan. (Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)

Opinion divided on Union Station costs Add to ...

Toronto Transit Commission chairwoman Karen Stintz is standing her ground after a fellow city councillor called the TTC “deceptive” for claiming its Union Station renovation is on time and on budget.

Last week, the TTC hosted a media tour of the construction at the busy transit station where a $161-million platform expansion is on track to double the space by next year. Surveying the progress at the halfway point, Ms. Stintz said she was happy to announce the project is on time and on budget.

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But Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong said the claims are inaccurate, saying the budget for the original project in 2002 was $58-million.

Both Ms. Stintz and Mr. Minnan-Wong have been named as possible mayoral candidates in 2014, and both identify themselves as fiscal conservatives. Mr. Minnan-Wong said he is concerned that a similar jump in costs could occur for the $3.28-billion Scarborough subway expansion, which council recently approved.

“Particular aspects of the particular budget change,” Ms. Stintz said in a phone interview Wednesday about the Union Station estimate. “Every project goes through a cycle: You estimate a budget, create a contingency fund, get bids and then evaluate that budget up or down.”

TTC documents show the original estimate was re-evaluated, and rose to $89.3-million in 2006, then to $137.5-million in 2008. The current budget of $161-million was approved by the TTC in 2010 when the final designs were approved and contracts signed.

Ms. Stintz said original estimates were made before the designs were finalized. She said the costs rose as the scope changed, but said that is typical of large-scale projects. “It is frustrating for people but [$137.5-million] was our best guess,” she explained.

Mr. Minnan-Wong said it is misleading to claim the project is on budget after it has been changed three times over. He also observed original estimations pegged the project – set to be completed in time for the 2015 PanAm Games – as being finished by 2008.

“What they’re saying is: ‘We adjusted the budget, therefore it is on budget.’ That’s not a transparent or an accountable way to build transit,” Mr. Minnan-Wong said.

He said a history of TTC projects going over budget doesn’t bode well for the Scarborough subway plan.

“If you applied the same criteria and the same dubious methods that the TTC uses in presenting projects in the beginning only to gross them up at the end, the Scarborough subway project would be close to $8-billion,” he said.

“I think there’s a better way to plan and design and build capital. Until such time as there’s a recognition of that, the TTC will continue to have projects go far over budget.”

Mr. Minnan-Wong pointed to the St. Clair streetcar project, the costs of which ballooned far beyond original estimations of $65-million to more than $106-million in 2010. At that time, the TTC released a report identifying what went wrong and how to avoid cost overruns in future endeavours.

But TTC chief executive Andy Byford said the claims made last week were fair given the project is still on track with the final budget and timeline approved in 2010.

“The statement that was made was made with reference to the agreed budget and the agreed design as approved. No one was meaning to be disingenuous,” Mr. Byford said.

“Any major project goes through a series of gateways: an evolution from an initial concept about what needs to be done. Progressively, both the design gets refined and the associated cost gets refined.”

The platform expansion project is one part of a $1-billion revitalization of Union Station that includes a custom-designed glass atrium, a concourse with additional exits and space and a seamless, stair-free transition between the TTC station and the rail concourse. Construction on the platform expansion began in 2011 and is set to open in mid-2014, though it won’t be fully completed until 2015.

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