Coquitlam MLA disputes Evergreen costs, timing claims

Coquitlam-Maillardville MLA Selina Robinson says the BC Liberals have been deliberately misleading the public about the project's financials and timing

Local New Democrats are rankled by claims that the Evergreen Extension is under budget and only three months late, arguing that the project is not only years behind schedule but millions of dollars more costly to provincial coffers than planned.

Selina Robinson, NDP MLA for Coquitlam-Maillardville, says the BC Liberals have been deliberately misleading the public about the project's financials and timing, and she challenged Premier Christy Clark to come clean on the full costs of the line.

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"In February of 2009 when they green-lighted the Evergreen Line, their contribution was going to be $410 million and construction was to be completed by 2014.

"We were excited — I was on [Coquitlam city] council — finally, after waiting all this time, then they added a 'realistic' completion date of August 2014."

But in the intervening years, she said, the province's contribution grew to $586 million, a $176-million difference, and the opening date is more than two years later than originally anticipated.

"It's disingenuous to say it's under budget when you pledged to contribute $410 million and then it increased to $586 million," Robinson said. "The project might have come under budget but the provincial portion was over budget, and they never explained why."

Robinson and David Eby, NDP spokesperson for TransLink, whose comments come after Premier Christy Clark attended opening ceremonies Friday, say they are pleased the Evergreen Extension is finally complete but want more transparency on the finances.

$173-MILLION GAP

Much of their concern is about a decision the province made to fund a $173-million gap that was identified in 2009 that wasn't exactly a deal breaker but raised concerns about the project getting built.

At the time, the $1.4-billion Coquitlam-to-Burnaby project was being considered for a private/public partnership and there were concerns about getting a private investor on board because of the global economic meltdown, according to Tri-City News files.

In an interview, then-BC Liberal transportation minister Kevin Falcon told The Tri-City News: "I'm not very concerned at all about financing it because 90% of the money is already pledged."

He also raised the suggestion that other funding could be secured by asking Burnaby, Coquitlam and Port Moody city councils to hike zoning around the proposed SkyTrain stations, with extra revenues being used to offset the cost of building the stations.

NUMBERS GROW

Federal contributions to the 11 km, six-station project now at $424 million, were originally $350 million, according to announcement made in February 2009 plus a $66.7-million federal contribution made earlier.

But the feds, along with the city of Coquitlam and the owners of Coquitlam Centre mall, agreed to contribute $31 million towards the construction of Lincoln Station — an extra station not part of the original plan — bringing the total project budget to $1.431 billion.

The provincial government, meanwhile, funded the $173-million gap itself, plus an additional $3 million, for a total of $586 million from its original $410-million contribution.

And instead of construction starting in 2010, as some had predicted, a request for proposals went out in 2011, with EGRT Construction selected in 2012. Construction began in 2013, with tunnel boring starting in 2014.

The development of sinkholes required the construction of underground walls to stop dirt from falling in during boring machine maintenance and stopped work for about six months. But once a solution was found, boring proceeded quickly and time was made up, with the company responsible for the cost of the delays, according to a technical briefing earlier this week.

UNDER BUDGET

Also in the briefing was news that the project was $70 to $85 million under budget — potentially offsetting some of the province's contribution, although much of the savings could be explained by a large contingency.

According to that briefing, the project came in under budget because of stringent control of project management costs, low interest rates and a project contingency to deal with emerging issues.

Notes show construction, testing and commissioning of the line, including construction financing, was originally pegged at $889 million, including municipal road work, but came in at $925 million, or $36 million more.

But project management, including engineering, procurement, legal, communication, interest during construction and contingency came in significantly under budget, with the original budget slated at $223 million and the actual costs between $97 million and $110 million.

Other costs varied from budget as well, but the end result is that the project will cost $1.346 billion to $1.361 billion, compared to the original budget of $1.431 billion, about a 5% difference.

Robinson said she's not taking so much issue with costs laid out in the technical report but the lack of information on the "ballooning" of the provincial contribution.

"They said $410 million, they spent $586 million. I think they're misleading and I think they need to be accountable," Robinson said.

In a letter to The Tri-City News, BC Liberal MLA Linda Reimer (Port Moody-Coquitlam), disputed Robinson's numbers, writing: "Regarding the $173 million, our BC Liberal government contributed significantly more than our other funding partners in order to make the project happen. The original funding arrangements were based on LRT technology;  the 2008 business case demonstrated the benefit in investing in a SkyTrain extension, which would be faster and provide much greater long-term ridership capacity for the Tri-Cities. In the fall of 2011, we stepped up to fill the funding gap and the mayors’ council committed their money for the project. We are proud that by making this additional investment, we got Evergreen moving. It’s incorrect and disingenuous for the NDP to suggest that the project is over budget."

• To see the notes from the technical briefing on Evergreen, go to: http://www.th.gov.bc.ca/evergreen_line/documents/161125-Evergreen-Line-Financials.pdf.

 

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