Why Did St. Clair Cost So Much?

Cars and streetcars emerge from the west end of the St. Clair Avenue right-of-way, photo by Manuela Garay-Giraldo.

How does a $65-million project turn into a $106-million project?

Ask the mayor or one of the TTC’s critics, and you’ll learn the St. Clair right-of-way is a testament to the TTC’s inability to manage and deliver a project on time and on budget.

After all, it is the St. Clair Disaster. Or is it?

In a 2010 report commissioned by the TTC titled Getting It Right, authors Les Kelman and Richard M. Soberman point out the project grew far beyond the TTC work.

“The project scope changed while the project was under construction,” the report says.

Those changes included decisions to replace existing hydro services with underground service, upgrade water services, enhance street lighting, and implement sidewalk and roadway enhancements.

Initially, $48 million was budgeted to replace the track, which was subsequently amended to $65 million to make it a right-of-way. That was only for the TTC work: track replacement, platforms and shelters, intersection improvements such as turn signals, public art, streetscaping and property acquisition.

Ultimately, $68 million was spent on transit work. TTC chief planning officer, Mitch Stambler,  says it’s not the TTC’s fault that costs went off the rails.

“The great irony is it did not get out of control, nor did the costs get out of control,” Stambler said. “It’s a bunch of other things that had nothing to do with the original project, had nothing to do with what was approved in the environmental assessment. But everybody else jumped on board.”

Ward 21 councillor Joe Mihevc, who advocated on behalf of the project as former vice-chair of the TTC, says there were conversations about replacing the hydro plant on St. Clair five years after the right-of-way was to be completed.

Much of the area’s infrastructure had to be replaced. The watermain between Yonge Street and Vaughan Road had to be upgraded to abide by provincial water regulations introduced after the Walkerton tragedy.

“We said if you’re going to do that, do it now and underground it, rather than five years after,” Mihevc said. “It wasn’t the TTC’s job to replace them, but because the TTC was into the ground … I said now’s the time to do it, let’s not dally.”

Enbridge also decided to get in on the action to replace its cast-iron pipes with PVC pipes, because the cast iron pipes were breaking at a rate of one break per four kilometres per year.

Furthermore, as a result of the underground work, $4 million had to be spent on sidewalk reconstruction, $3.4 million on street re-paving and $8.5 million was spent to upgrade street lights, arms and luminaries.

“That was part of the deal,” Mihevc said in regard to the streetlight improvements.

In addition to cost overruns, the project experienced significant time delays. Following the completion of an environmental assessment, the Minister of the Environment ordered additional public consultation as a pre-condition for project approval because of public outcry.

In August 2005, all construction work had to be halted because of a lawsuit against the city and TTC for allegedly contravening the city’s official plan.

The Divisional Court of Ontario ultimately overruled a ruling in favour of the complainants, but the legal proceedings cost the city $3 million in court costs and another year in delay, which created additional challenges.

“As a result of the injunction and the stoppage … the labour cost went up, the material cost up, we had to keep running buses to replace the streetcars which cost a lot more because they don’t carry as many people,” Stambler said.
Stambler pegs that added cost at another $10–15 million.

Finally, the hydro, water and Enbridge work all had to be done separately.

“Utility people do not like working on top of each other because of liability issues,” Mihevc said. “So it was four years of pre-work basically just so TTC could get in.”

The track work was the final part of the project and only took about six months, Mihevc said.

“They were actually the fastest contractor, but they’re wearing the perceived delays,” he said.

The Getting It Right report identifies the lack of a cohesive scope as one of the St. Clair Right Of Way’s major issues.

“In other words, construction commenced in the absence of a comprehensive design of what was to be constructed,” it says.

The report also notes construction planning was fragmented and uncoordinated.

“Various elements of the project were neither centralized nor controlled by any single entity,” it says. “More than 20 separate, relatively small construction contracts were awarded this 6.8 km transit improvement.”

Perhaps exemplary of the lack of coordination between various city departments, the Getting It Right report states that according to the 2010–2014 TTC and city budgets, the estimated total expenditure for St. Clair is now $106 million.
However, when individual additions from different city departments are all added to the original TTC budget of $65 million, the final number is closer to $150 million. City officials were not able to explain the discrepancy in time for publication.

The TTC says it will use the St. Clair experience to keep costs for future projects on track.

“It’s one of the big lessons learned,” Stambler said. “If you’re going to be doing a major civil works project on a road, if there’s other agencies, whether it’s Enbridge, whether its water, whether its sewer … don’t come at the last minute and say, ‘Hey, can I have a piece of the action too.’

“Come get coordinated at the beginning so we can all work in a coordinated way,” he added. “That didn’t happen (with St. Clair).”



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