Subways Cost, Cost, Cost

Some transit blogs seem to think that building a subway is easy peasy , costing only a little more than a surface operation. This train of thought comes from a grand ignorance of subway construction and operation; with Translink’s grand subway plans based on the myth that subways carry more people.

As we all know in BC, all mayors are experts are experts on transit and the holy grail in transit planning is a subway.

Yippee!

The mayor’s council on transit is like an old boys rugby game, thirty one referees on the field, but I digress.

The staggering costs for subway construction is clearly evident with subway planning in Toronto.

The following quote should put an end of any discussion for new stations for the Canada line or future stations on the Broadway subway.

The three stations recently built on New York’s Second Avenue line reportedly cost about $644 million-$812 million (U.S.) each.”

In Canadian funds this cost is $856.2 million to $1,079.5 billion!

Staggering!

 

Memo to Ontario Tories — there’s no such thing as a free subway

By Edward KeenanStar Columnist
Mon., Jan. 14, 2019

Ah, free transit. Is there anything our politicians like promising more?

Remember departed former mayor Rob Ford promising the private sector would construct a Sheppard subway extension in Scarborough at no cost to taxpayers? Remember when current mayor John Tory promised that the life-changing magic of Tax Increment Financing would deliver a 22-station “surface subway” at no cost to property taxpayers?

Now, as reported by the Globe and Mail, Premier Doug Ford, through his Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek, promises to change the one-stop Bloor-Danforth Scarborough extension back into a three-stop extension, with private sector developers entirely picking up the difference in cost.

They love the idea of something for nothing. I get the appeal. When it comes to prices, $0 looks pretty attractive.

Thing is, you tend to get what you pay for — and to not get what you don’t. Instead of free transit, basing plans on skipping out on the bill might ensure we remain transit-free.

That would be my primary concern when examining the provincial government’s recent idea to revert to the three-stop subway plan in Scarborough. “The developer would pick up the cost of those stations (in Scarborough) as we go forward, and it will not be a cost to the taxpayer,” the Globe reported Yurek saying on the weekend.

Let’s be clear about a something up front.

Wherever and whenever we are building transit, we absolutely should be working with developers to put intense commercial and residential uses on the station sites themselves if possible. It provides job sites and housing in transit-served locations, and can bring in significant revenue for the governments doing the building.

The hitch is that that money — decent as it may well be — is unlikely to be enough to cover the costs of the stations. Not nearly.

The three-stop subway extension was estimated to cost about $1 billion more than the one-stop version, partly because the topography of the area requires the stations and tunnels to be deep underground, and partly because subway stations are monstrously expensive to begin with. (The three stations recently built on New York’s Second Avenue line reportedly cost about $644 million-$812 million (U.S.) each.)

So if this is coming free of cost to the taxpayer, as Yurek says, we’d need a developer to essentially pay the province $500 million each for development sites at Lawrence and Sheppard.

It’s hard to know, in general abstract terms, how much land and development rights above a subway station at Lawrence and McCowan would be worth.

Right now, there’s a two-acre strip mall-and-housing site in Scarborough a few blocks from the proposed subway site listed for sale for $9.7 million. But land in the area would no doubt be more valuable with a subway line there, and land directly atop a subway more valuable still.

How much more valuable? It’s hard to know, exactly. But to get some sense, how about looking at a spot directly beside Finch subway station on the Yonge line with an underground tunnel connected to the subway station? That’s about as close to being on top of a station as a building can get.

Last year, such a building on Yonge St. in North York, a fairly new 18-story office tower, LEED certified and with 92 per cent of its 274,000-square-feet of commercial and retail space leased to mostly government and credit-grade tenants, sold for $85.15 million. That was for an existing highrise tower in an area of the city that is already fairly densely developed and populated.

Or, to look at it from another angle, in 2017 a developer bought a site at Yonge and Steeles — where a subway extension to the 905 is one day expected — with hopes of putting three condo towers and a hotel on it. The price? $53.9 million.

I don’t know which may be a better comparison to a site like the ones Yurek is discussing. But perhaps between the three examples, we see the ballpark value for commercial real estate of that type. It’s a big-league park — the numbers are huge!

But if the province essentially needs someone to buy the land and development rights above a station for $500 million in order for us to get a free subway station, we’re talking about a different order of magnitude.

Some might shrug and say, “Well, so what? This is still more real estate revenue than we were discussing before. It’s better than nothing.”

Perhaps. My concern is that when you promise something for nothing, and it turns out that something may instead cost hundreds of millions of dollars, you either wind up with a shocking and unexpected bill, or you get exactly what you planned to pay: nothing. Both results are as disappointing as they are sadly familiar.

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