'It is quite a shock:' Cost of building the Ontario Line has nearly doubled
Published Thursday, November 24, 2022 11:08AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, November 24, 2022 4:25PM EST
The cost of building the Ontario Line has nearly doubled from initial estimates and could end up coming in at more than $1 billion per kilometre.
When the Ford government first unveiled plans for the 15.6-kilometre relief subway line in 2019, it pegged the cost at $10.9 billion and said that it would be completed by 2027.
However, new documents released by Infrastructure Ontario this month show that two contracts totalling $15 billion have already been awarded for the project, which is now expected to be completed in 2031.
Request for Proposals (RFPs) have also been issued for another two contracts to build the north portion of the line.
Infrastructure Ontario has previously suggested that these contracts, once awarded, will add between $1-2 billion each to the total cost.
That, in turn, could push the price tag as high as $19 billion.
“It’s quite a shock and should be a shock to people,” NDP Infrastructure Critic Jennifer French told CP24 this week. “I think that factoring in inflation is you know, a realistic thing to talk about, but to blame this entirely on that, nobody's buying that.”
One of the biggest factors driving up the cost of the Ontario Line is a contract awarded to a consortium of companies to operate and maintain the system for the next 30 years.
Metrolinx previously estimated the value of that contract at greater than $2 billion but when the contract was formally announced on Nov. 17 its value had shot up to $9 billion.
The other contract to build the southern portion of the line from Exhibition Place to west of the Don River was initially pegged at $4 billion but came in at $6 billion when it was announced earlier this month.
In a statement provided to CP24, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation said that “construction projects worldwide are facing economic challenges with rising inflation costs and supply chain shortages,” a phenomenon which is “not unique to the Ontario Line.”
French, however, told CP24 that the Ford government owes taxpayers a more fulsome explanation.
She also expressed concern that the latest documents released by Infrastructure Ontario move the estimated execution date for the final project agreement back two years to 2026.
At this point, it is unclear how that might impact the timeline for the construction of the 15-stop subway line.
CP24 did ask the ministry whether the completion date will be further delayed but was not provided a response.
“I guess we'll have to leave it to each individual best guess when it will actually be delivered because we don't have the behind the scenes information that we would need (to make that determination),” French said. “You know, this is a major construction project. This is a massive infrastructure plan that we don't really have any details about and then when we get to see real numbers here, like in this update, I think we all have a reason to be very nervous that this is going to cost a lot of money and a lot of time.”
Ontario Line is part of $28.5 billion plan
The Ford government chose to make the Ontario Line the centrepiece of a $28.5 billion transit expansion plan for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area announced in 2019, effectively replacing another planned relief subway line project that was being pursued by the City of Toronto.
In a statement, Ministry of Transportation spokesperson Dakota Brasier said the project, once complete, will “see almost 400,000 passengers every day, reduce crowding on existing subway lines and put 57,000 jobs within a 45 minute transit commute to Toronto.”
She said that it will also “generate more than $10 billion in economic benefits.”
But concerns are nonetheless being raised about the rising price tag.
“Ontario needs investments in public transportation, but we also need transparency and responsible oversight from our government on these projects,” Liberal Infrastructure Critic Stephanie Bowman said in a statement issued Wednesday. “The Conservatives must come clean and tell Ontarians why the government’s hallmark transportation project is running far over budget and well past its initial completion date.”
Toronto’s plans for a relief subway line previously called for a smaller eight-station subway that would have ended at Pape Station.
Planning work was well underway on that line when the Ontario Line was announced in 2019.
As part of the agreement with the city, the province has committed to covering all capital costs for the Ontario Line, the Scarborough Subway Extension, the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension, and the Yonge North expansion. The cost overruns impacting the Ontario Line would therefor be shared equally among Ontario taxpayers and would not impact the City of Toronto's finances.
“We confirmed again with City staff today that the City does not provide any portion of the capital costs of these four provincial priority projects,” a spokesperson for Mayor John Tory told CP24.com on Friday. “As part of this agreement, all City transit funds are being invested in State of Good Repair for our existing transit system and other transit projects. Recognizing the pressures caused by inflation and higher financing costs, the city looks forward to doing whatever it can to assist in the management of all costs related to any public project.”