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HomeBusinessExclusive: TransLink finally fesses-up to the ballooning costs of the delayed Surrey-Langley line

Exclusive: TransLink finally fesses-up to the ballooning costs of the delayed Surrey-Langley line


Bob Mackin

When TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond finally released the new, inflated costs for the Broadway subway and Surrey-Newton-Guildford light rail projects at the end of April, he refused to reveal the latest estimate for the delayed Surrey-Langley line.  

Even though Desmond and his team at TransLink’s Sapperton headquarters had in their possession a July 2017 report by veteran SkyTrain cost estimator Anthony Steadman. 

“At this time we haven’t done any business case, so like with these other projects until we really have a very detailed business case, it’s a number, it’s a ballpark figure,” Desmond said on April 30 when theBreaker pressed for the numbers. “We have to do a considerable amount of additional work, so there is a number back there but it’s not what I would consider particularly accurate.”

Sany Zein (left) and Kevin Desmond on April 30, when they refused to disclose the new Surrey-Langley cost estimates. (Mackin)

TransLink changed its tune this week and released a report to theBreaker under the freedom of information law that includes separate estimates for an LRT line and SkyTrain line to connect Surrey and Langley. 

Steadman estimated the cost of an LRT project beginning work in 2022 would be $1,949,248,444 — $700 million more than the $1.22 billion figure put in front of voters before they rejected funding TransLink’s expansion in the 2015 plebiscite.

If the project goes ahead in 2022 with SkyTrain technology, it would be another billion at $2,914,798,721.

The LRT scenario contemplates 13.264 km of in-street guideway and 2.967 km of elevated guideway, using 19 articulated low floor LRT vehicles, each 40 metres long with a capacity for 250 passengers. The report identifies nine stations at King George, 140th St., .152nd St., 160th St., 166th St., 68th Ave., 64th Ave., 192nd St. (Willowbrook Exchange) and Langley Terminus. 

A long list of 15 costs are excluded from the LRT scenario, such as: financing costs beyond the construction period; re-routing of existing transit services, either temporarily or permanently; street works beyond the transit routes; physical barriers at LRT street crossings; park and ride facilities; bus loops (other than street facilities at Willowbrook Mall and the Langley Terminus); work to the existing Serpentine River Bridge; operating costs; and GST.

A SkyTrain line from King George Station to Langley Centre would have eight elevated stations and a 15.737 km guideway. The report said it would require 55 vehicles, equivalent to fourth generation SkyTrain vehicles slated for the Expo and Millennium lines. 

On April 30, Desmond and vice-president Sany Zein unveiled new cost estimates for the Broadway subway and Surrey-Newtown-Guildford LRT. They are now $2.83 billion and $1.65 billion, respectively — up from the 2015 estimates of $1.98 billion and $920 million. Desmond and Zein cited the rising costs of real estate, labour, materials and equipment for the huge increases. 

For more than two years, theBreaker had sought the cost estimate updates, yet TransLink and the provincial government consistently denied FOI requests or censored the costs from documents that were released. Likewise, none of the officials would comment, even though the TransLink Mayors’ Council had been briefed on the numbers behind closed doors.

On June 28, the Mayors’ Council and TransLink board of directors approved a plan to build the Broadway and Surrey-Newton-Guildford projects. TransLink has $2.01 billion in federal commitments and $2.55 billion from Victoria. The remaining $2.71 billion for phase two of TransLink expansion is coming from fare increases and higher taxes on property, fuel, parking and condo development.

All of this, after the NDP government stepped-in and took over the $1.3 billion Pattullo Bridge replacement project from TransLink. 

It is par for the course, according to the research of a prominent academic.

Bent Flyvberg, a business professor at Oxford University, has analyzed megaprojects around the world. “Overruns up to 50% in real terms are common, and over 50% overruns are not uncommon,” his research has found. 

In his Iron Law of Megaprojects, Flyvberg says they are “over budget, over time, under benefits, over and over again.”

Why? Because architects want visually pleasing products and engineers are excited by building the longest-fastest-tallest. Politicians have a tendency to want monuments that benefit themselves and their cause. Business people and trade unions want revenue and jobs.

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Surrey-Langley LRT FOI Release 2018-282.pdf by BobMackin on Scribd