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Enough is enough on Spadina subway extension

Thirty years have come and gone and the subway to York University is still stalled up the track.
March 6, 2015
By Royson James

Fire somebody!

Thirty years have come and gone and the subway to York University is still stalled up the track.
Hold somebody responsible, please.

Rarely, even for stereotyped governments, does a public project so infuriatingly pile insult on top of injury.
And there’s no hell to pay.

It’ll cost nearly twice as much as advertised; on Thursday an estimated $400 million was added to the filthy tab, if the city wants to maintain anything close to the original schedule.

Best bet is the six-stop, 8.6-kilometre extension from Downsview Station won’t open in 2016 as promised, after missing the 2015 target. Try 2017 as opening day.

Asked why no one had been fired for the fiasco, Tory would only say, “That’s a darn good question.”

But soon after the city hall news conference, a source in the mayor’s office promised: “Changes will be made - and it won’t be confined to the TTC,” adding it would be “cruel and unfair” to name a victim before the axe falls.

The TTC can’t keep missing target dates and spending projections, transit boss Andy Byford acceded last November, fretting about the “significant risk” of further delays. The TTC must “deliver on our promise,” he said.

By the time Byford was making those comments, he had already told mayor-elect Tory of the anticipated delay upon delays. Tory didn’t register outrage publicly then. On Friday, he threw everyone under the bus - including leadership at the TTC and at city hall.

“There hasn’t been leadership in this building, starting at the top,” Tory said, adding it would be patently unfair to blame him for a project in full disarray before he arrived.

And a city hall source claims the news about the delays could be worse, with a later opening date, if the city doesn’t incur higher costs to speed things up.

Now what?

Mayor Tory says the city has a habit of incurring cost overruns on multiple projects, not transit only. TTC chair Josh Colle says he wants an independent third-party review of all transit projects. They sounded mad, though not as angry as if a contractor had given them similar news about an addition to their own homes.

Won’t heads roll, somewhere, over this? Not Byford’s, mind you. He’s been dealt an ugly hand. All the man does is show up whenever things go wrong, commiserate with furious TTC customers, offer no excuses, and take responsibility for other people’s screw-ups.

We are talking here about a routine subway extension - not the monumental Boston Big Dig or crossing Lake Ontario. Who knew that crossing over Steeles Ave. into Vaughan could prove such back-breaking donkey-work?

In the early 1980s, I started filing stories about the proposed subway extension to York University, and then beyond to the open fields in Vaughan. Little did I know that reporting on this subway would morph into a retirement project.

Thousands, no, hundreds of thousands of productive workers from the ’80s will be long retired before they get a chance to cash in on their tax contributions and ride the rails from Vaughan to downtown.

Premiers David Peterson, Bob Rae, Mike Harris, Ernie Eves, Dalton McGuinty and now Kathleen Wynne have presided over the debacle.

Mayors and Metro chairs from Alan Tonks to Art Eggleton, Mel Lastman, Lorna Jackson, David Miller, Rob Ford, Michael DiBiase and now Maurizio Bevilacqua backed it before dumping it on John Tory.

TTC chairs Lois Griffin, Paul Christie, Howard Moscoe, Brian Ashton, Adam Giambrone, Karen Stintz, Maria Augimeri, Mike Colle and now his son, Josh, have owned the file.

As late as 2014, the TTC kept claiming in reports that the Spadina line was on time and on budget. By whose reckoning? TTC bosses Al Leach, David Gunn, Rick Ducharme, Gary Webster and now Byford?

Years in the planning and debate and approval and near defeat, the project was under consideration prior to amalgamation in 1998. But it would be 2010 before construction began, 16 months late. Harsh winters, a months-long shutdown after a worker died on the job site, problems with sub-contractors and the main contractors all contribute to the delays, apparently.

But the only one paying the price is the taxpayer. The province contributed $870 million to the project (with demands to take it beyond York University up to Highway 7 and Jane St.). The federal government added $697 million. Toronto is paying $526 million and York Region $352 million.

Tory finds the overruns piling up at this desk, with all partners claiming tough fiscal times that render them incapable of absorbing added costs. Wynne has rising deficits. Vaughan and York Region have rising infrastructure debts. Stephen Harper’s ear isn’t tuned this way.

Last November, TTC chair Augimeri lamented to the Star’s Tess Kalinowski that the usual practice of picking the lowest bidders on such contracts is flawed. It’s a fine time to alert us, madam councillor.

The TTC has had problems with the construction company and its sub-contractors. But, clearly, there were no clauses protecting the taxpayer from cost over-runs. Tory tried to mollify taxpayers by saying the problem has nothing to do with subway construction. The city endures cost over-runs even on building homeless shelters, he said.

Somehow, we were not comforted.

Where is Elton McDonald, the now world-renowned man who dug the mystery tunnel nearby to create a classic man cave? The man knows how to dig a tunnel in that very terrain. He couldn’t do any worse than the people the TTC hired.

In the meantime, Tory’s suggestion to open the line to York University first, then complete it to Vaughan later, is a good one. Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca has to protest it, as he did Friday. He’s the MPP for Vaughan.

But such a salvage operation is just one silver lining on a brutally bleak day for transit.