Horgan’s FastFerry – Another NDP Fiasco!

I do not agree much with Vaughn Palmer, but I think he has twigged to the fact not all is right with current transit planning.

When Postmedia allows unpleasant news about SkyTrain, one knows things are amiss.

The realities of subway construction are coming home to roost and it will be a very unpleasant surprise for the taxpayer.

Zwei’s question is this: “Why is Horgan so stupid to let this mega project reach the FastFerry fiasco level in the first place, does it have anything to do with his inner circle which includes former Vision Vancouver Councillor and big supporter of the Broadway subway, Geoff Meggs?”

Memo to the NDP: The Broadway subway, a.k.a. FastFerry fiasco Part 2, will give you another 20 years in the wilderness for your party to contemplate life.

Why are you allowing this to happen?

Vaughn Palmer: Costs of Metro transit plans soar, with no word of explanation

The price tag for Surrey light rail transit and the Vancouver Broadway subway extension is sobering, even when one makes allowance for inflation and the rising costs of labour and materials.

Vaughn Palmer
Updated: September 4, 2018

VICTORIA — For all the enthusiasm Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier John Horgan brought to their announcement on transit funding Tuesday, there was no overlooking the soaring cost of building SkyTrain and light rail in Metro Vancouver.

The two leaders reiterated their support for the SkyTrain extension under Broadway in Vancouver and for a stand-alone light rail project in Surrey. They had promised much the same previously.

But both bristled at the suggestion that the event at the Surrey campus of Simon Fraser University was little more than a joint photo op, with SkyTrain itself as a backdrop.

“We’ve locked in this funding for the next 10 years,” insisted Trudeau, who took note of the looming civic elections in Vancouver and Surrey.

“This is about locking this down,” added Horgan. “This is happening. This is not being revisited. The cheque is in the mail. We are going to be building.”

Both may have protested a little too much. In the civic election race in Surrey, debate continues about whether light rail is the way to go or would a long-touted extension of SkyTrain to Langley be a better use of federal and provincial funding.

Either way the price tag is sobering, even when one makes allowance for inflation and the rising costs of labour and materials.

The SkyTrain extension in Vancouver, lately called the Broadway subway because most of the distance will be tunnelled, is priced at an estimated cost of $2.83 billion.

That amount will build 5.7 kilometres of SkyTrain, stretching from the current station at the Clark drive campus of Vancouver Community College westward to Arbutus Street.

The estimate works out to $496 million dollars a kilometre or about half a billion dollars in round figures.

For comparison’s sake, the Canada Line, completed less than 10 years ago in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics,  was priced at $2.1 billion, or about $100 million for each of its 19 kilometres.

The 11-kilometre Evergreen Line, completed in late 2016 after a delay in construction, came in at $1.43 billion or $130 million a kilometre.  Both lines involved some tunnelling.

Against that backdrop, Prime Minister Trudeau made a passing reference Tuesday to the long-standing proposal that the Broadway line should eventually be extended all the way to the University of B.C.

Depending on the route to be chosen, that would mean another eight kilometres or so of construction, mostly tunnelling. (Not likely would citizens or businesses on the west side of Vancouver stand for cut and cover excavation, never mind an above-ground line along Broadway and up the hill to UBC.)

Even without allowing for inflation, it would cost at least another $4 billion to extend the line from Arbutus terminus to the Point Grey campus.

Almost as shocking as the half-a-billion-dollars-a-kilometre cost of extending SkyTrain was the latest price tag for building surface light rail.

LRT, needing neither elevated guideways nor the occasional tunnel, has long been considered a much cheaper alternative to SkyTrain. That’s one reason why Surrey opted for light rail over an L-shaped line linking the city centre to the Newton and Guildford town centres.

It also explains why Surrey exercised its considerable political pull with senior governments to make light rail a priority over proposals to extend SkyTrain to Langley.

With the two senior governments now having locked in their commitments, light rail will be the transit priority for B.C.’s second most-populous city for the next few years.

Indeed, by the time light rail is scheduled to be running in 2024, 30 years will have passed since the then NDP government opened the last SkyTrain extension south of the Fraser River at the very station, King George, where Tuesday’s event unfolded.

The Surrey-Newton-Guildford project is now estimated at $1.65 billion for 10.5 kilometres of surface-level light rail. That works out to $157 million a kilometre, or 20 per cent more than the cost of the Evergreen SkyTrain line, completed just two years ago with elevated guideways, full grade separation and a tunnel.

Less than 10 years ago, TransLink estimated it could build surface light rail in Surrey for $27 million a kilometre, about a fifth of the current price tag.

How to account for that increase?  No explanation was forthcoming Tuesday. But I am assured TransLink will provide a briefing later in the week.

One other question to arise from the background materials provided by the provincial government was contained in this paragraph: “The government of Canada will contribute $1.37 billion to the two projects, the government of British Columbia will contribute $1.82 billion, and TransLink, the city of Vancouver, and the city of Surrey will contribute $1.23 billion.”

Those numbers suggest Ottawa will pay 31 per cent of the cost, B.C. 41 per cent, while TransLink and local governments will cover 28 per cent.

This is not the 40-40-20 federal-provincial-regional split advertised by both the prime minister and the premier. But that too awaits further explanation.

Still, the premier says the cheque is in the mail.  Unless his government can come up with a more persuasive accounting than the one in Tuesday’s press release, I’m thinking a stop payment might be in order.

 Palmer’s second article.

Palmer: SkyTrain construction soars to $500M per Km, but why is ‘confidential?’

The NDP commissioned the detailed budget for the project, vetted the numbers, and know what each component is expected to cost. They just aren’t telling the taxpaying public anything about it.

VICTORIA — At first glance the report on the Broadway SkyTrain extension posted on the transportation ministry website holds out the hope of shedding light on how construction costs have soared to half a billion dollars per kilometre.

“Cost report,” it says, followed by a comprehensive statement of purpose: “This document details the preliminary cost estimate of the reference concept design for the Millennium Line Broadway extension project.”

But the first indication that the contents offered less than full disclosure came when I clinked on the link and learned that the copy released for public consumption had been “redacted” and, yes, “sanitized.”

I’ll say it was.

Doubtless the unsanitized and unredacted version of the 13-page report from March of this year contained a full breakdown of the cost of extending the existing SkyTrain line from the Clark Drive campus of Vancouver Community College westward along Broadway to Arbutus.

“The estimate assumes that all the work is carried out as one single project and covers costs including project management, preliminary design and technical investigations, engagement and consultation, procurement, design, construction, risk, contingencies and interest during construction,” according to the text.

The methodology was thorough. The costs include money spent to date on planning the project, through the 18 months or so it will take to put the expansion out to tender and award the contract, and then the years of construction up to a targeted in-service date of 2025.

Finally the report from the provincial Partnerships B.C. agency insists that all the numbers have been checked and double checked: “A due diligence review of the capital cost estimate was conducted, which confirmed that the budget currently carried is reasonable to design, construct and commissioning of the approximately 5.7 (kilometre) extension to the existing Millennium Line SkyTrain network.”

In short, the New Democrats commissioned the detailed budget for the project, vetted the numbers, and know what each component is expected to cost. They just aren’t telling the taxpaying public anything about it.

For when you get the dollar breakdowns on Page 9 of the report, every last detail is blanked out in the name of confidentiality and protecting the public interest.

For instance, five of the 5.7 kilometres will consist of twin, bored tunnels, hence the name Broadway Subway. The estimated cost of doing this is withheld.

The terms call for the construction of underground stations at Great Northern Way, Main, Cambie, Oak, Granville and Arbutus. Each of the six is costed as a separate entry. Each is also blanked out in the copy for public consumption.

Property purchases are one of the main cost drivers in building public infrastructure these days, though not clear how much that would be a factor with the routing more than 85 per cent underground.

The city of Vancouver has donated an estimated $100 million worth of land as its contribution. The rest is a guess, because the estimated cost of property purchases is also censored from the report.

So on through the withheld cost estimates for “roadwork, site preparation, utility relocation, landscaping, environmental mitigation, track work, train control and signalling, security, power, fare collection, engineering, public consultations and contingencies.” All suppressed.

Instead the government chose to release only the total cost estimate for the project: $2,826,458,192.

Which strikes me as a fancifully precise amount for what is said to be “a preliminary cost estimate,” based on a “reference concept design,” without benefit of a tender call or multiple bids, never mind a finalized contract.

But for what it is worth, that translates to an estimated cost of $495,869,858 per kilometre.

I was directed to this report by a government representative when I asked why the latest SkyTrain extension was costing almost four times as much per kilometre as the Evergreen line, completed less than two years ago for $130 million per kilometre.

The report doesn’t answer the question, nor much of anything else. Perhaps more detailed breakdowns will be released after the contract is awarded.


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