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Government keeps Evergreen Line costs, overruns shrouded in secrecy

No disclosure of public funding details for $1.4 billion rapid transit project
Construction on the $1.4 billion Evergreen Line near its tunnel access in Port Moody | Rob Kruyt

The BC Liberal government is refusing to show how much it has spent so far on the Evergreen Line.

The Millennium Line SkyTrain extension to Coquitlam and Port Moody was budgeted at $1.43 billion, but the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure censored the spending breakdown from the April financial summary, which was released last week under Freedom of Information.

The broadly worded request sought the most recent balance sheet, statement of cash flow and forecast for the project.

The financial summary restates only the budgeted amounts already published as contributions from the B.C. government ($585,646,731), TransLink ($400 million) and the federal government ($417 million).

The ministry maintains that disclosure of the costs to taxpayers for the 11-kilometre line would harm the financial or economic interests of the government, the business interests of a third party or intergovernmental relations. The summary shows that the Lincoln station construction budget is $28 million, but that breakdown is similarly censored to avoid what the government claims would be harm to third-party, public-body finances and intergovernmental relations.

The website for PPP Canada, a federal Crown corporation, said it is contributing up to $7 million for the station near Coquitlam Centre. A May 10 Morguard (TSX:MRC) presentation shows the City of Coquitlam is contributing $15.32 million (of which $7.79 million is cash) and Coquitlam Centre PRL (Pensionfund Realty Ltd.) is contributing $12.68 million. The province is responsible for cost overruns.

“It’s always suspicious when government hides documents that should be readily available to taxpayers paying the bills on projects,” said Canadian Taxpayers Federation B.C. director Jordan Bateman. “This is a taxpayer project. It’s our money; we deserve to know how it’s spent.”

At a news conference in late April, Peter Fassbender, the BC Liberal minister responsible for TransLink, stated that the “project will be on time and on budget.”

In February 2009, the government said construction was scheduled to begin in late 2010 and be completed in late 2014.

The project was supposed to be finished by next month. But in mid-February 2015, the government announced a delay to fall 2016 because of tunnelling troubles under Port Moody. Those complications worsened in spring 2015 when more sinkholes led to the tunnel-boring machine being stalled for five months.

In late November, when tunnel-boring finally finished, the Evergreen Line’s service date was delayed until early 2017.

The project is officially being built under a fixed-price contract with a consortium led by SNC-Lavalin (TSX:SNC), but the troubled Montreal engineering and construction company already reported cost overruns in August 2015.

Its infrastructure and construction division recorded a $27 million loss on the second quarter, partly because of the “challenging soil conditions.” In April, BIV reported that the province is in mediation talks with SNC-Lavalin about the overruns.

SNC-Lavalin agreed to take on the tunnelling risk, based on a Golder Associates environmental report, but it encountered what it claimed were unforeseen sub-surface conditions.