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HomeMiscellanyExclusive: Mayors got secret update last year on TransLink megaproject costs, but kept public in the dark

Exclusive: Mayors got secret update last year on TransLink megaproject costs, but kept public in the dark


Bob Mackin

Internal TransLink documents obtained by theBreaker strongly suggest the estimated costs for three Metro Vancouver transportation megaprojects have skyrocketed and the agency is grappling with how and when to break the news to the public.

Document obtained by theBreaker confirms TransLink and Metro Vancouver mayors are keeping secrets about megaproject costs.

The 2015-adjusted estimates were $2.53 billion for light rail transit in Surrey, $2.28 billion for a subway under Broadway and $1.1 billion to replace the 80-year-old Pattullo Bridge. Documents released to theBreaker on Dec. 11 under the freedom of information law confirm that the costs were further updated in 2016 and given secretly to the Mayors’ Council, “but not publicly released.” Further estimates were crafted this year.

A March 9, 2017 communications plan said the cost pressures include rising real estate prices, inflationary pressures on contractors and a Canadian dollar that is lower in value than when the estimates were made for the regional mayors’ $8.08 billion, 10-year plan in 2014. 

Specifically, the Broadway project is feeling increased pressure because of geotechnical assessment. The cost of an operations and maintenance facility is adding pressure to the Surrey-Newton-Guildford phase of Surrey LRT, along with utility relocation and the rising cost of land to accommodate corridor widths. 

The communications document indicated that TransLink was planning to hold media briefings to provide in-depth information about the projects, business cases and updated costs. It contemplated holding a major media event in conjunction with the B.C. and federal governments. Development was underway on project websites and social media content, it said, was shared with mayors and the province. 

Project cost estimates were censored from January updates to the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund steering board. The documents did show that more than $11.6 million had been spent on the Broadway project and $15.2 million on Surrey. Other documents warn that every year of delay adds $300 million to $500 million to capital costs. 

An April 2 email from Sany Zein, TransLink’s infrastructure management and engineering vice-president, to TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond did not show dollar figures, but it said “the project inflation numbers are higher than recent GDP growth and higher than general recent inflationary growth; so some level of ‘hot market’ inflation is accounted for.

“The contingency percentages have been getting lower as the design definition improves. If interest during construction and internal labour charges are excluded from the gross total, the contingency value would represent a higher percentage.”

Inflation was estimated at 3.5% per annum for construction and 2.5% for systems prior to contract award, 2.5% for construction and systems during construction and 2.5% for management and professional services. 

Donald Trapp, the ParternshipsBC project director, wrote April 7 to Zein that contingency estimates for construction costs ranged from 19% for Surrey-Newton-Guildford to 25% for Pattullo. Trapp also offered some optimism. 

“Cost inflation for heavy civil does not follow residential/commercial domestic market trends,” Trapp wrote. “Major projects attract contractors and consortia from around the world, and some areas (think Europe) the outlook is not secure; our projects will be very attractive.

“Cost control is achieved through proper management of the scope and schedule throughout the project from inception to substantial completion.”

TransLink’s Sany Zein

Final business cases were supposed to be completed and submitted for approval to the NDP government this fall. The documents estimated that, pending funding confirmation, construction work on all three projects could be underway by 2019. Pattullo and Surrey-Newton-Guildford could be completed in 2023 and Broadway in 2024. 

An update on major capital projects is on the agenda for the Dec. 14 board of directors meeting at TransLink headquarters in Sapperton. It will be the swansong for Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner, who were replaced as the Mayors’ Council-appointed directors last week. 

The region’s mayors chose Burnaby’s Derek Corrigan to replace Robertson as chair and North Vancouver District’s Richard Walton to replace Hepner as vice-chair. 

Corrigan, a pragmatic, longtime NDP member, suggested that smaller municipalities are growing anxious. 

“Both Gregor Robertson and Linda Hepner were very much focused on the big projects in their cities, so I think there was a feeling that maybe there would be a little more regional perspective if they got people in that were from more neutral ground,” Corrigan told the Burnaby Now. 

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FOI TransLink Megaprojects TheBreaker by BobMackin on Scribd