The Scarborough subway extension project could end up costing the city hundreds of millions more than earlier estimated, further cutting into a pool of money that had been set aside for the construction of the Eglinton East LRT, according to a new staff report.

Back in 2013, city council initially voted in favour of a three-stop subway extension to the Scarborough Town Centre, however, in January 2016, the proposal was scaled back to one-stop in order to cut down costs.

At the time, staff estimated that the change would shave about a $1 billion off the $3.56 billion price tag for the project, allowing the city to reinvest the savings in the construction of a 17-stop LRT line to the University of Toronto Scarborough campus.

Now, a staff report released Tuesday endorses aligning the subway with McCowan Avenue over a less expensive alternative route along Brimley Road. The cost of the McCowan Avenue alignment was pegged at $3.159 billion in a report provided to council in July. The Brimley Road route would have put the cost at about $2.9 billion.

In Tuesday’s report, staff is also recommending that the city build an underground bus terminal at a cost of $187 million, bringing the total project cost to $3.346 billion.

That would leave about $214 million to be put towards the $1.6 billion cost of the Eglinton East LRT.

Despite the shortfall, Mayor John Tory stressed that the LRT will get built at a press conference on Tuesday, calling it a “fundamental” part of the city’s transit plan.

“That project will proceed forward and I think the amount of money that will be left from the envelope for Scarborough transit will be a very significant down payment on the cost of that LRT and we will find with our friends in other governments the money necessary to build that project,” he said.

Staff endorse costlier McCowan Avenue route

There were initially seven possible routes under consideration for the Scarborough subway; however the list was later timed down to two routes –along McCowan Road and Brimley Avenue.

The report projects the cost of building the subway extension along Brimley Road at $2.945 million but endorses the more expensive option along McCowan Avenue, in part, because “significant growth is not anticipated” along the Brimley Avenue corridor due to its proximity to industrial businesses.

Speaking with reporters, Tory downplayed the cost increase for the McCowan Avenue route and suggested that the $187 million required for an underground bus terminal is essentially a “separate” question and not another example of cost overruns on the project.

“The original proposal contemplated an above-ground bus terminal, our planners now say that it would be better for the ultimate growth and dynamism of Scarborough to build a below-ground bus terminal and there is a cost to that, which we will have to consider,” Tory said. “I just think this is the way any project proceeds. When you are renovating your house you stop along the way at different times, maybe have meetings with the contractor, and sort of say ‘Are we going to change things? Are we going to add a new garage on?’ This is what goes on every day but people who want to make it an endless political debate try to put these things into much different terms.”

Third-party review identifies potential savings

As part of its review of the Scarborough subway project, the city also commissioned a third-party firm to conduct a review of its own budget and estimates.

The review by BT Engineering identified 35 potential cost-saving proposals for further study, some of which would cut millions of dollars from the total price tag.

Tory said he is “heartened” by that report, which he said could result in “substantial savings.”

Some of the potential savings identified by the firm include the construction of an at-grade station as opposed to a below grade stations ($100 to $150 million) and the reduction in the thickness of concrete along the track ($14 million)

“I think it makes a good case to city council to move forward with this project,” Tory said of the potential cost-savings.

The city is splitting the cost of the Scarborough subway extension with the federal and provincial governments. Its share of the project is being paid for with a 30-year property tax levy.