The north-south Trillium Line rail extension won't be finished until May 2023 at the earliest, nine months later than the initial August 2022 deadline stated in the contract, councillors heard Friday.
The latest delay means Carleton University students will go an additional entire school year without transit rail, and anyone else travelling between downtown and Riverside South, or the Ottawa International Airport, will remain on buses for much longer than previously expected.
The city's director of rail construction relayed to finance and economic development committee what contractor Transit NEXT, a wholly owned subsidiary of SNC-Lavalin, is telling him about the reasons for the delay.
"I think they would point to COVID delays, impacts because of social distancing, and pressures on the market, some utility impacts," said Michael Morgan.
In a slide show he shared with councillors, most stations were partially built and tracks had not yet been lain in areas such as Riverside South.
"We still need to see some progress on the key milestones," Morgan said.
Earlier this year, some councillors had asked to know whether the $1.6-billion Trillium Line project was behind schedule — after CBC News reported it was — but had to wait more than nine months to get an updated timeline.
The Trillium Line heading south is the first of three sections of rail due to open as part of Ottawa's big second stage of light rail.
Confederation Line could also be delayed
A different group, Kiewit Eurovia Vinci, is working to extend the electric Confederation Line further east and west.
The work in the west — adding 11 stations and taking 15 kilometres of track to Moodie Drive and to Baseline station — looks to be 10 months behind schedule "on paper," Morgan told councillors.
That section is to be finished by May 2025, but Morgan said the digging of the tunnel in the Westboro area has hit deep clay and there are productivity issues.
He said the city will review the schedule in early 2022 with the east-west contractor to figure out whether time can be made up.
The Confederation Line extension east to Trim Road in Orléans appears to be going well. Morgan expressed "measured optimism" those five stations and 12 kilometres of track will be finished by the November 2024 completion date.
Trillium Line subject to peer review
The construction of the Trillium Line is the focus for Coun. Carol Anne Meehan, however, because its southern terminus will serve her constituents in Riverside South.
After seeing the many issues that have plagued the Confederation Line in Stage 1 LRT, including two derailments, Meehan sought assurances its problems won't be repeated on the Trillium Line. SNC-Lavalin is a key player in both.
On Friday, the finance committee agreed with her idea to ask city staff to engage a "peer review" to take a look at any issues with design, construction or training that could be dealt with, even before that north-south line is completed.
The city will hire an experienced rail construction firm or rail agency to review the Trillium Line project, which should take three to four months "and will be completed with sufficient time to influence the final outcomes of the project," according to Morgan's memo.
SNC-Lavalin's technical submission when bidding for the Trillium Line contract twice failed to meet the 70 per cent score needed. However, a clause in the request for proposals allowed the city's executive committee the discretion to waive SNC-Lavalin's bid through the procurement process anyway. Neither council nor the public knew this clause existed.
City to pay $6.3M for garage land
The committee also decided to spend an extra $6.36 million to buy land it has been leasing from CP Rail, to allow for the Trillium Line's new maintenance and storage facility on the neighbouring property to expand at a later date.
The city's lease is expiring, and buying the 5.9 hectares would let the city reuse buildings it already has on the site, said Morgan. It would also accommodate a bigger Trillium Line fleet, if ever the line offered trains more frequently than the 12-minute intervals currently planned.
Some councillors did question why the Trillium Line contractor wasn't responsible for the land.
"Is this a Christmas gift for SNC-Lavalin, or are they going to be paying us back?" asked Coun. Diane Deans.
Morgan told her the city is initiating the purchase so SNC-Lavalin will have access to it.
Both the peer review and land purchase will need full council approval in January.