A week after its Mayors’ Council endorsed a plan to raise property taxes and hike transit fares to begin its expansion, TransLink is refusing to provide the latest cost estimates for the biggest items on its long-term wish list.
The Broadway subway and Surrey light rail were estimated in 2014 to cost $1.98 billion and $2.14 billion, respectively. Last March, City of Surrey rapid transit project manager Paul Lee admitted rising real estate prices had pushed the Surrey proposal’s estimated budget to $2.6 billion.
The public portion of the Sept. 23 quarterly meeting contained no mention about either project. Business in Vancouver asked TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond at a post-meeting news conference for an update and whether the cost estimates had increased by a billion dollars each.
“We’re not prepared to talk about what the estimates are,” Desmond said. “It’s during that period of time in the months ahead that we [will] further will pin down the cost estimates going forward. By the time we’re ready to proceed with the investment plan on phase two, we’ll be in a much better position to have more accurate estimates associated.”
On March 30, TransLink CFO Cathy McClay admitted the cost estimates had gone up, but she wouldn’t provide numbers. She said consultants were given extra time, until June 30, to deliver their reports. She blamed the high cost of real estate and the decrease in the loonie’s buying power for materials.
In early 2015, Steer Davies Gleave and Hatch Mott MacDonald were hired on a $1.56 million conceptual design and cost estimate study for the Surrey proposal. They subcontracted Stantec (TSX:STN), Via Architecture, Anthony Steadman and Associates and the Stewart Group. Stantec is leading the $1.4 million study on the Broadway proposal with subcontractors Jacobs Associates, Golder Associates, Allen Parker Consulting, Site Economics, Westco Consulting, Edward LeFlufy Urban Design & Architecture, Locke & Locke, Dessau, BTY Group and Anthony Steadman and Associates.
“These are both very, very complicated projects and you go thorough a design process that is highly iterative,” Desmond said. “During a prolonged design and engineering process for very complicated public works projects you go through eventually value engineering exercise as well, and we’re not there yet.”
A September 8 report that was not tabled or mentioned at the meeting, but released online afterward, said TransLink “is targeting” the fourth quarter of 2016 to submit business cases to the federal and B.C. governments to fund the two projects.
The Rapid Transit Projects Update by Sany Zein, acting vice-president of infrastructure managing and engineering, referred to the projects as the South of Fraser Rapid Transit (Phase 1) and Millennium Line Extension (Broadway).
The June 2016 federal and B.C. agreement on funding the first phase of TransLink expansion includes $157 million for project development and advancement works on the two megaprojects.
“Federal government representatives indicate that the second phase of [funding] may include the balance of senior government funding required for implementation,” Zein wrote.
TransLink has set up project boards including representatives of PartnershipsBC, Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development and TransLink, along with Vancouver and Surrey staff. But communicating with the public is not in the cards, meaning the Mayors’ Council is likely to approve fare hikes and property tax increases later this fall without disclosing the latest cost estimates to the public.
“Rapid transit project teams follow a communications protocol developed jointly with the City of Vancouver and City of Surrey,” Zein wrote. “No significant public communications are anticipated in the current phase of work. The individual projects are developing forward-looking plans for consultation and communications activities in later phases in the development of the projects.”
Meanwhile, Desmond declined to comment on the impending sale of the Oakridge Transit Centre to Intergulf Development Group. BIV sources say the transaction for the 13.8 acre, mixed-use residential building opportunity could be worth as much as $400 million.
“We have no further information on that property transaction at this point in time,” Desmond said.