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City of Ottawa needs extra $15M to cover fees in Stage 1 LRT litigation

City of Ottawa legal staff need an extra $15 million to continue defending its claims in litigation with Rideau Transit Group, the builder of the city's light-rail system. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

The City of Ottawa is hoping to give its legal team deeper pockets in its litigation with Rideau Transit Group (RTG) over disruptions in the first stage of light-rail transit in the capital as crews hope to avoid setbacks in Stage 2.

A jam-packed day of meetings meant the first quarterly update on Ottawa’s LRT system of 2021 started after 10 p.m. on Tuesday at the finance and economic development committee (FEDCO).

Before that, members of FEDCO met in-camera to discuss matters relating to ongoing litigation between the city and RTG, the consortium that built and maintains the first stage of LRT.

Read more: Ottawa LRT to run reduced service in March, April to fine-tune system

Coming out of that meeting, the committee passed a motion to add $15 million to the city’s contingency fund for the project.

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Few details were given about the nature of the financial need, but the motion said the city has already run through the $100-million fund set aside at the beginning of the project for expenses including, but not limited to, legal fees and obtaining outside technical expertise.

The city and RTG have filed legal claims against one another related to maintenance payments withheld from the consortium and a series of service disruptions on the Confederation Line LRT.

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Staff need the extra $15 million to continue defending the city in these claims, according to the motion.

The motion proposed to take these funds from Ottawa’s transit capital reserve, but the city intends to get the money back from RTG as part of the litigation.

FEDCO passed the motion unanimously but council will have to approve the motion at its next meeting.

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After the in-camera portion of the meeting wrapped up, Ottawa rail construction director Michael Morgan updated FEDCO on construction progress on the Trillium Line LRT extension.

Morgan said in a memo to council on Monday that the Stage 2 expansion to the city’s south end is experiencing “schedule pressures” that could result in delays to the project, currently slated for handover in August 2022.

TransitNEXT, the subsidiary of SNC-Lavalin tasked with building the north-south LRT extension, informed the city about the potential delays, but Morgan said Ottawa and its independent inspectors continue to review the situation to see whether the setbacks will come to pass.

Morgan said any potential delays are in the realm of 40 days.

Read more: TSB not flagging any safety issues on Ottawa LRT despite wheel cracks, says OC Transpo head

There are three areas of the expansion that he pointed to as potential sources of delay: the Elwood Diamond, South Keys station and the bridge over Hunt Club Road.

Some councillors at FEDCO expressed concern about further delays affecting commuters along the north-south spine of Ottawa’s LRT system, specifically Carleton University students, who are relying on replacement bus service during the construction shutdown. A delay past September 2022 would affect the start of the fall semester, councillors pointed out.

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Mayor Jim Watson asked whether the Trillium Line could be reopened in phases, with the original length of the line to Greenboro Station reopened first to serve the affected transit users. Morgan said that’s an idea that could be explored with TransitNEXT.

OC Transpo boss John Manconi attempted to pump the brakes on talks of “delay,” saying it was “too soon” to say whether there will be any setbacks.

Contrasting it to the previous situation with RTG, where the consortium regularly told the city the LRT was on track only to deliver a system 15 months late, Manconi said TransitNEXT has been open about problems throughout the construction process and adapting its response by bringing in extra resources, for example.

“It is a fluid situation. We’re not declaring it being delayed right now,” Manconi said.

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