Thursday, September 24, 2009

Rising transit plan costs concern province, citizens

According to a report in the Ottawa Sun, the first phase of Ottawa's light rail plan is already running about $100M over the budgeted cost. The phase, initially pegged at between $1.7M and $1.8M of the plan's total roughly $5B price tag, hasn't broken ground yet, and includes the city's proposed downtown tunnel. Contributing to the cost overruns, according to the report, are design changes to a maintenance yard and some light-rail platforms.
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.

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
.
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:
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?

5 comments:

Jon said...

Just make a big tunnel under the downtown core. That's all we really need at this point, and where the biggest bottle neck is.

Let buses use it, and later on, when the plans are to everyone's satisfaction, lay out more light rail.

Until they, make that tunnel, because it's simply no longer optional.

It has to be done.

Now hop to it, and and DO IT!

WJM said...

It would be a lot cheaper, and a lot saner, to just get rid of the idiotic, induced confusion and congestion of having all those rush hour "express" routes running from or through downtown.

They serve no purpose other than to coddle suburbanites, detract from the transit rider experience, and cause gridlock.

The Transitway should be trunk lines (and a handful of other high-volume routes) only.

Peter said...

There's plenty that can be improved about the way express bus service fits into the transit plan, but I can guarantee you there would be a lot more congestion if all those 'coddled suburbanites' started taking their cars in to work instead of express buses.

WJM said...

Why, in the absence of the poorly-named "express" buses, which are not express, and only serve to slow down the flow of the entire system, would suburbanites start taking their cars to work?

(Hint: this idea involves taking the so-called "expresses" out of the transit system; NOT taking actual rolling stock out of it.)

Jean Clermont said...

This morning's Citizen quotes a cost of 2+ Billion Dollars. What I want to know is this: How and Who comes up with these figures? I find it very difficult to beleive. I would like to see a serious, hard-researching journalist challenge these numbers, and better yet, compare costs of other public projects. For example: the Bridge to PEI: 1 Billion$; The Chesepeake Bay Bridge Tunnel: less than 1/2 Billion$, and it's 21 miles long! Help me out with more examples here people. I suspect that Ottawa is being taken for a ride on this (No pun intended!).