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Customers board a Toronto Transit Commission streetcar at Yonge and Queen Streets in Toronto on November 28, 2011. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)
Customers board a Toronto Transit Commission streetcar at Yonge and Queen Streets in Toronto on November 28, 2011. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

Tab for streetcar spur line grows sevenfold to $105-million Add to ...

The cost of installing a short stretch of streetcar tracks on Leslie Street has ballooned to $105-million from the 2009 estimate of $14-million after the TTC approved the project without realizing the state of utilities in the area.

Plans to authorize the contract are to be discussed Wednesday at the monthly commission meeting, but the sevenfold increase in price has already sparked backlash from a usually pro-transit voice at City Hall.

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“They had the budget approved based on not having to do anything underground,” said local Councillor Paula Fletcher, who has opposed the route and argues the environmental assessment was inadequate. She has written to TTC Chair Karen Stintz on the issue and plans to speak on it Wednesday.

“Now, when they’ve had to go back and do their due diligence, they’ve found out that they do have to do a fair amount underground, and that has now added to the budget immensely,” Ms. Fletcher said.

The TTC rejected the criticism, saying that they asked the city what sub-surface utilities were in the area and were given no reason to believe they would require such extensive work. “We did not have this information,” Sameh Ghaly, the transit service’s chief capital officer, said Tuesday. “We have 100 times more information [now] than we could have had during the environmental assessment.”

The proposed connector track is a spur line that will run 800 metres and will not carry paying passengers. It will be used to transport streetcars from the existing line on Queen Street to a new barn being built at Leslie and Lakeshore. The connector itself is a relatively small part of an overall project which, including the barn and spur-line, is now expected to cost $497-million. That price has risen from $345-million in the summer of 2010.

For the connector itself, the TTC estimated in 2009 that it would cost $14-million to build it (only the tracks and related infrastructure). Figures released in advance of Wednesday’s meeting showed the price now stands at $105-million. Mr. Ghaly explained that $64-million, nearly two-thirds the cost for the connector, will go to utilities work. He said they knew there were utilities at the site, but could not have been foreseen how degraded they were before the work began. In conjunction with the city, he said, a decision was made to expand the project.

“It’s an additional scope,” he acknowledged. “But is this additional scope warranted for the good of the public or not? Yes, we think it is, because these utilities needed to be replaced at one point anyway. They’re 80 years old.”

Running the track along Leslie was one of several options being raised over the years. It was routinely found to be the cheapest of the routes under consideration. Mr. Ghaly noted Tuesday that “hindsight is 20-20” and said it would be impossible now to say whether another route might have proved less expensive.

Ms. Fletcher said the budget process is symptomatic of a bigger institutional problem at the TTC. “It always seems like the TTC is getting caught without having provided the right numbers, and then they need more money,” she said. “That’s just got to end. Let’s be grown-up. This is what it cost to build and we’ve looked at all the features.”

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