The Sun has learned several significant design changes to the $1.8-billion project have sent costs soaring. City staff have underestimated the pricetag for the east-west LRT maintenance yard that’s expected to be located in the St. Laurent area, a senior staffer told the Sun.It seems unlikely that many people expected the project to finish on budget, chief among the sceptics being Ottawa West-Nepean MPP and Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Jim Watson, who voiced his concern a month ago. Watson came out again today, again in the Ottawa Sun, calling into question the City's credibility:
Bay Coun. Alex Cullen, who is also chairman of the city’s transit committee, confirmed last night there are several unexpected design changes, including to the maintenance yard.
“There have been scope changes that shows us adding on to the cost,” said Cullen.
Watson’s major concern is that the financial commitment expected from the province has jumped from $200 million to $600 million, and the final number could be even higher.
“We (the provincial government) have serious financial limitations. They have to make sure the project is affordable.”
“We can’t be funding one-third of a question mark,” he said, adding the city’s numbers have to be “firm, defensible and credible.”
The $200M figure cited by Watson was that initially pledged for the now-cancelled North-South light-rail extension, which was scrapped in 2006 when city council decided to move in another direction (literally and figuratively). It's somewhat deceptive to use it as the starting point, but his message is quite clear: The city needs to figure out what it's doing, and what it's asking for, before the Province of Ontario is going to offer any significant funding above and beyond what's already been promised.
Innes Ward Councillor Rainer Bloess suggested that city staff will have to find an efficiency elsewhere in the plan in order to offset the increase.
Transit projects of this magnitude have a tendency to go over budget due to unseen or overlooked expenses, and the City of Ottawa has had problems with similar budgeting before--including, most recently, the $5.6M budgeted to outfit the OC Transpo fleet with technology to call out stops, which has now more than doubled to $12M.
Still, it's got to be concerning for funding partners and particularly citizens of Ottawa that these issues are coming up already, before the work has even commenced.
It poses a couple of pertinent questions: Were you expecting to see news like this? If so, were you expecting to see them so soon? Is it likely staff will be able to find some other area to cut from in order to restore the previously-estimated cost?