UPDATED: Evergreen Line won't open until 2017 but 'biggest challenge is behind us'

SkyTrain cars won't start running on the Evergreen Line until early 2017, the second announced delay in the Burnaby/Port Moody/Coquitlam rapid transit line.

The opening date for the Evergreen Line has been pushed to early 2017 instead of the fall of 2016, after problems with the tunnel boring slowed progress on construction.

This is the second time the long-awaited rapid transit line opening has been delayed but the mayors of Port Moody and Coquitlam aren't crying foul.

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The two attended a true groundbreaking ceremony Friday morning to witness the tunnel boring equipment pushing through the earth and a concrete cap to complete the 2 km tunnel from Port Moody to Coquitlam.

Although disappointed Tri-City commuters won't see the benefits of the $1.4-billion line for over a year, Port Moody Mayor Mike Clay and his Coquitlam counterpart, Richard Stewart, are philosophical about the delay and also pleased that the most challenging aspect of the project is now complete.

"That's why we have contingencies," said Clay. "You have challenges, you deal with them, you hope for the best and then you move on."

Stewart said the additional delays didn't come as a surprise because the tunnel boring machine had struggled for several months in the deepest and most challenging part of the bore, in Port Moody.

"There’s no blame here, as the soil and groundwater conditions aren’t the fault of the engineers or the international team that runs the TBM," he said. "I believe that they did everything they could to complete this phase of the project as quickly as possible. And I’m certainly glad it’s done, as the rest of the project contains much less uncertainty."

The new, later opening date was mentioned nine paragraphs into a press release about tunnel boring completion but wasn't brought up during the press conference attended by local politicians.

When pressed about the issue during a media scrum, Peter Fassbender, B.C.'s minister of community, sport and cultural development, who represented Transportation Minister Todd Stone at the event, said the delay was unavoidable but won't affect the amount taxpayers have to pay for the project. 

And Fassbender couldn't guarantee there will be no more delays. 

"I don't think any of us know what's ahead," he said.

The new completion date will make Evergreen three years overdue from an original target operating date of late 2014, set by then-transportation minister Kevin Falcon in 2008.

With the tunnelling work completed, it will now take about two months to dismantle the boring equipment. After that, the track and electrical systems will have to be installed.

Evergreen Line project director Amanda Farrell said boring the tunnel was the most challenging part of the project. 

"Having broken through today is an important milestone," Farrell said, adding, "The biggest challenge is behind us."

Dozens of workers attended the event, cheering every time dirt was dislodged by the tunnel boring machine as more of the equipment peered out from behind a concrete cap. Many of the workers are Italians employed by the subcontractor SELI, which is a specialist in boring tunnels, and they unfurled their nation's green, white and red flag as part of their celebration.

The Evergreen Line will run from Lougheed Town Centre in Burnaby and have stations in Coquitlam and Port Moody, the last being next to Lafarge Lake in Coquitlam. It will connect to express buses running to Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge.

Construction is being managed by the province and TransLink will operate it once complete.

 

WHAT'S NEXT

• Dismantling the tunnel boring machine, which will take about two months and will require trucking the parts off the site and 24-hour lane closures on Kemsley Avenue between Elmwood Street and Clark Road.

• Construction to build the base for the track and interior centre wall that separates inbound and outbound trains, laying the track, and installation of power and communication systems, followed by testing and commissioning.

Meanwhile, the entire project is more than 75% complete, with work continuing on stations, station plaza areas and park and ride facilities, as well as testing and commissioning, landscaping, final road work, tree planting and restoration along the alignment.

The new opening date for the long-awaited rapid transit line is early 2017.

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