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Learning from St. Clair West:
Transit City projects to benefit from earlier experience?

Update — January 19: Steve Munro discusses this report here.

The City of Toronto / TTC project to rebuild the streetcar tracks along St. Clair Avenue West cost more time and money — and disrupted the nearby neighbourhoods much more — than necessary, according to a report that the Toronto Transit Commission will discuss at its meeting this Wednesday, January 20.

The report, “Getting it Right: Lessons From the St. Clair Streetcar”, reviews the St. Clair project with the goal of improving how the TTC manages the projects to build the Transit City light rail lines — and any other future projects.

The TTC retained transportation experts Richard Soberman and Les Kelman to examine the St. Clair project and recommend how the TTC can learn from its mistakes. (Dr. Soberman is a former chair of the University of Toronto’s Department of Civil Engineering and Mr. Kelman is a former director of the City’s Transportation Services division.)

The report briefly summarizes:

  • the history of the St. Clair streetcar project;
  • the main difficulties in managing the 6.8-kilometer project;
  • lessons relevant for managing the 120-kilometer Transit City program; and
  • how the TTC will deliver the Transit City projects by improving how it controls costs and timelines and reduce negative impact on the community.

The report explains how, in September 2004, Toronto City Council authorized a capital program for St. Clair Avenue West of about $48 million to:

  • replace the tracks;
  • build platforms and shelters;
  • improve intersections;
  • improve intersections;
  • install public art and streetscaping; and
  • buy property.

Afterwards, when staff prepared more thorough and detailed cost estimates, this amount increased to $65 million.

Even after starting design and construction, debate on project scope continued, resulting in staff adding more features to the project, including:

  • replacing the overhead hydro with underground service;
  • enhancing the street lighting;
  • relocating hydrants; and
  • improving sidewalks.

In other words, staff changed the scope of the project scope while the project was under construction.

Although the TTC was responsible for managing and budgeting for the main transit elements of the project, the City was responsible for these mangaging and budgeting for these new features. That meant that a single entity did not centralize or control various elements of the project.

The City and TTC awared more than 20 separate, relatively small construction contracts were awarded for the project. Due to the small size of these contracts, the project attracted few, if any, large contracting firms with greater resources to manage and control the cost and deadlines for as large a project as this.

Soberman and Kelman take aim at the Minister of the Environment’s role in delaying the project. While planning the project, the City and TTC consulted with the public extensively, hosting open forums, community workshops, and follow-up meetings with community groups, property owners, individuals, and other stakeholders.

Nevertheless, when the City and TTC finished the environmental assessment study, some members of the public raised formal objections about the lack of adequate public consultation. The Minister of the Environment allowed opponents of the project to launch a judicial review. The report says that was the wrong decision, since the legal process delayed the project for nearly a year.

The report notes that the TTC will avoid many of the problems with the more centralized approach of Toronto’s new “Transit City” plans. The TTC has set up a single office for all Transit City matters. A program manager, who reports directly to the TTC’s chief general manager, serves as the single point of contact with Metrolinx and attends a steering committe of City and TTC staff to keep the help keep the projects on track.

You can read the full report here. (.pdf)