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Cost overruns heat up public works committee

Angry councillor breaks quorum,
demands to defer issue for public discussion

By Kelly Grant

The financial hits keep rolling on St. Clair: One of the last contracts for the controversial streetcar right-of-way project is $3.5-million over budget.

City staff underestimated the cost of replacing a water main and rebuilding the track between Vaughan Road and Westmount Avenue, boosting the price to more than $25-million from the original $21.5-million.

St. Clair wasn’t the only over-budget project with which council’s public works committee grappled Tuesday. Members also voted in favour of an extra $4.5-million for a swanky makeover of Bloor Street, already a year behind schedule.

But it was the St. Clair overrun that sparked an outburst from Councillor Cesar Palacio, who briefly broke quorum when his colleagues refused to defer the issue so he could ask questions about it in public.

“I think that they don’t want any questions to be asked with regards to that [St. Clair streetcar] project any more because they know that project is a disgrace in every sense,” said Mr. Palacio, whose ward includes St. Clair Avenue west of Winona Drive.

Fearing legal repercussions and eager to finish the line, city staff cut a cheque to Domti Engineering and Construction Ltd. for part of the cost overrun in February. Details were made public in a report “for information” only, meaning Mr. Palacio couldn’t question staff about its contents unless it was postponed and brought back as an action item next month. He lost in a tie and stomped out of the meeting.

Councillor Gord Perks, also a public works member, chided Mr. Palacio for making a “hobby horse” out of criticizing the St. Clair right-of-way.

“It’s disappointing he can’t accept that a democratically elected body has made a decision to build a project he doesn’t like,” Mr. Perks said. “It’s further disappointing that he’s decided to act out and have a temper tantrum because of that.”

Mr. Palacio eventually returned to committee, where the item was reopened and put off until next month as he demanded.

The extra cost of the Domti contract will be split three ways: The TTC will pay just over $2-million, Toronto Water about $290,000 and the city’s transportation services department $1.15-million. The final section of the St. Clair line is scheduled to open June 20.