SmartTrack will cost an extra $234M and the province should foot the bill, city staff report says
A new report says it will cost an extra $234 million to build five SmartTrack stations in Toronto because of unexpected costs, and city staff say Toronto should ask the province for the money.
In a report to the city's executive committee, staff say the existing budget for SmartTrack is $1.463 billion, but "numerous unanticipated factors" have caused the estimated costs to rise. The committee is expected to consider the report at its March 21 meeting.
SmartTrack is a plan proposed by former mayor John Tory to bolster the city's rail system using existing GO Transit commuter lines and would consist of five stations: Finch-Kennedy, East Harbour, King-Liberty, St. Clair-Old Weston and Bloor-Lansdowne. Design work has begun at four of the stations and utilities are already being relocated at the Finch-Kennedy site.
"City staff are seeking city council direction to request the province of Ontario to pay for all amounts above the original program budget," staff say in the report.
"Since the program will also benefit the province through increased ridership on the GO system, and as the province will own and maintain the SmartTrack stations, there is a strong rationale for the province to contribute towards the increase in program's costs," the report says.
Dakota Brasier, spokesperson for Ontario's Ministry of Transportation, said in an email on Wednesday that the ministry is still reviewing the city's report.
"Our office has been in discussion with Deputy Mayor McKelvie and will have more to say as these conversations progress," Brasier said.
Initial proposal promised 22 stations
The initial SmartTrack proposal, which was the centrepiece of Tory's 2014 mayoral campaign, promised the construction of 22 stations on existing GO Transit rail corridors by 2021. The transit project is now down to five transit stations.
Under the terms negotiated between the city and the province, the five stations would be built by the province and its agencies, namely Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario.
According to the report, Metrolinx has told the city that it is seeing its costs increase due to economic challenges, including supply chain uncertainty, inflation uncertainty and an increase in rail sector projects that are leading to labour shortages and less market competition.
"The rationale provided by Metrolinx is consistent with current conditions experienced by the city through the planning and execution of its major capital projects," the report says.
City staff said a decision on SmartTrack is needed urgently so that the city can award the design-build contract for the Bloor-Lansdowne Station in early April.
The report also calls on the city to tell Metrolinx that Toronto will not proceed with that station until the province has agreed to provide the extra funds needed for all five stations.
If the province declines to provide the extra funds, the report asks city council to direct the city manager to report back to the executive committee as soon as possible to outline options.
Deputy mayor committed to building transit
In a statement on Wednesday, Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie said she is committed to building transit and to ensuring that the city "stays at the table" with the provincial and federal governments when it comes to transit projects.
"As the city staff report notes, the SmartTrack Stations Program represents a significant investment to improve transportation choices within Toronto and leverages existing transit infrastructure to serve more people," McKelvie said in the statement.
SmartTrack will "accelerate the transformation of heavy rail infrastructure in Toronto from a regional commuter service into an urban rapid transit network, thereby bringing transit faster to communities across the city," McKelvie added.
Some of the stations could be open to riders in three years, she said.
Coun. Josh Matlow, who represents Toronto-St. Paul's, said in an interview on Wednesday he supports the building of the five stations and thinks the city should ask the province for the extra funds, but is concerned that the city is paying for more than its share of costs. He said SmartTrack is part of GO Expansion, a program that will expand the GO rail network.
"The report further demonstrates what an absolute folly this has been for the City of Toronto," Matlow said.
"SmartTrack was really a branding exercise by the 2014 John Tory mayoral campaign for what was supposed to be a provincial GO project that was supposed to be fully funded by the province in the first place. But because John Tory rebranded it SmartTrack, the city has ended up having to pay for much of the bill," he added.
"We've ended up having to pay for what the province of Ontario was going to be building anyway."