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HomeMiscellanyB.C.’s biggest secret: the cost of TransLink’s Surrey and Broadway megaprojects

B.C.’s biggest secret: the cost of TransLink’s Surrey and Broadway megaprojects

Bob Mackin

The mystery continues, even after the provincial election, “clone speech”, fall of the BC Liberals and the swearing-in of the NDP government. 

Surrey secrecy

What are the new cost estimates for TransLink’s Broadway subway and Surrey LRT megaprojects? 

In early 2016, City of Surrey revised the cost of its project, from $2.14 billion to $2.6 billion. The Broadway subway estimate was $1.98 billion.

TransLink chief financial officer Cathy McLay admitted in spring 2016 that costs had risen for both. She blamed the price of real estate and the costs for equipment and materials that would be sourced from the United States. The organization is steadfastly refusing to come clean on the numbers. 

Have the projects doubled in price? When government agencies are unreasonable and won’t be honest to the governed, then it becomes reasonable to pose such a question. Especially in British Columbia, where the phrase “on-time, on-budget” isn’t a rule or even an aspiration anymore, but a punchline. It is not entirely a B.C. phenomenon. 

The Journal of American Planning Association published “Cost Underestimation in Public Works Projects: Error or Lie?” in the summer 2002 edition by Bent Flyvbjerg, Mette Skamris Holm and Søren Buhl. They studied 258 transportation projects worth U.S. $90 billion

“Based on the available evidence, we conclude that rail promoters appear to be particularly prone to cost underestimation, followed by promoters of fixed links… The average difference between actual and estimated costs for rail projects is substantially and significantly higher than that for roads… The average inaccuracy for rail projects is more than twice that for roads, resulting in average cost escalations for rail more than double that for roads.”

On Aug. 8, TransLink released two heavily censored reports on the projects to theBreaker, plus its latest direct refusal to comment on the revised cost estimates. 

TransLink infrastructure and engineering vice-president Sany Zein cites “commercially-sensitive information that should remain confidential in anticipation of commercial negotiations” for refusing to offer an update on the dollars and cents of the megaprojects, which the ruling NDP, their allies in the Green Party and the opposition Liberals all support.

TransLink’s Sany Zein

Are Zein’s words just word salad to mask the fear of widespread public sticker shock? 

TransLink is withholding more than 1,200 pages of documents about the Broadway subway, which is officially called the Millennium Line Broadway Extension. It disclosed a cover page for a May 5 2017 report called “Due Diligence Technical Response,” but it didn’t even show theBreaker a table of contents. 

The Surrey project is officially known as South of Fraser Rapid Transit and TransLink gave theBreaker parts of two reports: the October 2016 Newton-Guildford Traffic Modelling Report by Steer Davies Gleave and Hatch and the Phase One: Surrey-Newtown-Guildford LRT project business case, dated Nov. 28, 2016. 

The former says Newton-Guildford will be “an urban style LRT system, integrated into the existing streetscapes, using modern lower floor Light Rail vehicles.” The second phase could be SkyTrain technology. 

“Work is ongoing to determine the preferred rapid transit technology for the Surrey-Langley Line, but if LRT is selected as the preferred technology, then the two lines will run on a common section of track in the Surrey City Centre area between King George and 104 Ave.”

The latter report is a joint TransLink and PartnershipsBC business case that recommends the Surrey-Newton-Guildford LRT project. The estimated capital cost of the 11-stop, 10.4 kilometre LRT line is censored. The project schedule foresees construction from mid-2019 to the end of 2022, with LRT operations beginning in 2023. 

Claire Trevena, the NDP Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, has not responded to theBreaker’s request for comment. We will let you know if she does. 

  • Stay tuned. theBreaker will not give up trying to get you the cost estimates for these projects. If you’re a TransLink or government insider, theBreaker welcomes your tips, in confidence. Click this contact link. 

FOI Release Memo 2017-341 – Cost Estimates by BobMackin on Scribd

FOI Release 2017-339 Surrey LRT by BobMackin on Scribd

FOI Release 2017-340- Broadway Subway by BobMackin on Scribd