‘Allergic to accountability’: Ford government under fire for ballooning Ontario Line costs

Click to play video: 'Metrolinx explains why Ontario Line costs nearly tripled'
Metrolinx explains why Ontario Line costs nearly tripled
WATCH: Metrolinx explains why Ontario Line costs nearly tripled – Jun 24, 2024

The ballooning cost of Premier Doug Ford’s signature Ontario Line transit project has led to new criticism that the government was “not upfront” about the taxpayer-funded price tag, and is “allergic to accountability.”

A Metrolinx report updating the costs of eight transit projects under construction shows the Ontario Line – a 15-kilometre transit line that cuts through Toronto’s downtown core – increased by 43 per cent in a single year.

While the original construction price tag in 2019 was projected to be $10.9 billion, the latest estimate to build and operate the line over 30 years is now pegged at $27.2 billion.

Senior government sources told Global News the price tag includes money for wear and tear, funds to cover unexpected lifecycle costs, property acquisition costs and general operating funds over 30 years.

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Matti Siemiatycki, director of the Infrastructure Institute at the University of Toronto, said some of the costs could be explained due to inflation, which has pumped up the costs of construction by 40 per cent since the COVID-19 pandemic.

But, the success of large-scale public infrastructure projects, Siemiatycki cautioned, also rests on how they’re “pitched and promoted.”

“We were promised four projects in Toronto for $28.5 billion. And now it’s looking like we’re getting one project for $27 billion,” Siemiatycki said referring to the Ontario Line, Eglinton Crosstown West LRT, Yonge North subway extension and Scarborough subway extension projects announced by Ford in 2018.

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“This is both about technical factors for why projects are going up (in price,) but also about how they’re promoted and how they’re sold to the public,” Siemiatycki said.

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Political critics at Queen’s Park have a more blunt assessment.

“They were not upfront with the public what the true cost of this project will be,” said NDP MPP Bhutilla Karpoche.

Green Party MPP Aislinn Clancy suggested the growing price tag is in line with the Progressive Conservatives’ handling of transit-construction projects.

“For years, the Conservatives have refused to take responsibility for the ballooning costs and timeline of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT. Now, we’re seeing the same thing happen with the Ontario Line,” Clancy said in a statement. “This is a government that’s allergic to accountability.”

The Metrolinx report also raised questions about whether costs will increase even further in the years to come.

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Metrolinx sets to kick out Danforth residents to build Ontario Line

The government has, so far, spent 5.2 billion on the project and is promising to deliver the line in 2031. But the report also states that the $28.7 billion projected total “does not reflect the full cost of the project.”

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“Project includes one or more progressive contracts that are currently in a development phase,” the report reads. “The baseline will be updated to disclose the associated project budget as implementation phrase pricing is agreed.”

That’s leading to calls at Queen’s Park for full transparency.

“Estimated full price tag of this project, a credible plan and a timeline and full transparency around this P3 project,” said Karpoche.

Click to play video: 'Ontario Line costs balloon to $27B'
Ontario Line costs balloon to $27B

Clancy called for increased scrutiny.

“The Premier needs to step up with a credible plan to deliver major transit projects on time and on budget, including by stepping up oversight of Metrolinx,” Clancy said.

Siemiatycki said the silver lining is the Ontario Line’s projected price includes operational costs, which are often overlooked.

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“It’s expensive to operate and maintain these lines, both in terms of the labor and the workers to run the system, but also, to replace and upgrade pieces of the infrastructure as they age,” Siemiatycki said.

“It’s important that our governments are being upfront about how much those costs are going to be and then making sure that there’s budget allocated for it.”

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