TransLink can't find cost breakdown for Evergreen line
A year after Burnaby council first asked TransLink to explain how it came up with its 2006 cost estimate for the proposed light-rail (LRT) version of the Evergreen line, it finally got its answer.
TransLink can't find the numbers.
Council originally made its request to TransLink but the transportation authority said it couldn't answer the question because the provincial government is now in charge of the Evergreen line project.
So the response came from Kevin Richter, assistant deputy minister in the infrastructure department of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
"TransLink did an extensive search for this information but was unable to locate the breakdown of costs associated with LRT technology from the 2006 business case," Richter wrote.
Essentially, that response equates to "the dog ate my homework," said Coun. Colleen Jordan at a recent council meeting. "I just burst out laughing when I read the letter."
The information request was in response to questions Burnaby city staff raised about the decision to go with SkyTrain instead of light rail, which is generally considered to be less expensive.
"One of the things [staff] couldn't quite come to grips with was the difference in the price of light rail that was in the TransLink business case of 2006 and then the price that was quoted in 2008 when it was said it would hardly be any more money at all to go to SkyTrain technology," Jordan said.
The difference in the cost of light rail between the 2006 and 2008 business cases was 44 per cent more in the latter, about $400 million.
Jordan noted that $400 million was roughly the amount TransLink had to make up with a higher gas tax, a potential property tax hike and cuts in service to get the Evergreen line project serving the Tri-Cities off the ground.
For the province's part, Richter said the 2008 business case, developed jointly by TransLink and the ministry, included a more in-depth analysis of construction requirements which added to the second cost estimate.
"In addition, the assumed project date of the 2006 report was based on a 2007 construction start while the 2008 report was based on a 2010 construction start," he wrote. "The 32 month shift in an overheated construction market created an escalation of costs that significantly contributed to the overall cost of construction."
As a result, the estimated cost of LRT was increased and once compared to the cost of using SkyTrain technology and factoring in costs of operation, maintenance "and the overall benefit to the citizens using the Evergreen line," SkyTrain was chosen, Richter said.
But Jordan wasn't buying it.
"In a period of 16 months the cost of that project increased by 44 per cent and they can't explain that away other than they say it was a hot market then for construction costs," she said. "I don't think [city hall] experienced an increase like that for things we were building around the city as far as construction costs."
While Jordan said the project is supposed to cost $970 million, according to a recent Evergreen Line project newsletter, the rapid transit line is estimated to cost $1.4 billion. Construction on the line, which will run from Lougheed Town Centre to Douglas College in Coquitlam, is currently in the early stages.
On the lost numbers from the 2006 business case, Mayor Derek Corrigan quipped, "Maybe somebody left it on a bus, they should check the lost and found."
He added that "2008 coincides when they brought in the private sector board [for TransLink], I think. I don't see how a corporation can lose the business case that supported a billion dollar project."
Jordan said, "Something like this is absolutely shocking and leads me to think they never had a business case in the first place. Or maybe they're just making it all up as they go along and trying to sell us a bill of goods."