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Council to vote on submitting London Transit HQ project for leftover federal, provincial funds

While it's still only 60 per cent of what's normally expected, March saw the highest ridership level for London Transit since the pandemic began. Matthew Trevithick / Global News

A plan to demolish and rebuild London Transit’s aging Highbury Avenue facility will be up for discussion Tuesday during a meeting of the city’s Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee (SPPC).

The commission’s current headquarters, located at Highbury Avenue and Brydges Street, dates back more than 70 years and is “past its design and economic life and is no longer efficient to operate, maintain, or upgrade,” a staff report going before the committee reads.

It comes as London Transit looks to electrify its bus fleet and expand its services as the city continues to grow. London’s population is expected to reach 647,500 by 2051, according to a recent growth projection study, which will also go before SPPC on Tuesday.

Read more: Council to develop application for London Transit facility renovations

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The plan is estimated to cost a total of just under $333 million and has been broken down into two separate phases, worth $199.5 million and $133 million, allowing the Highbury facility to continue being used as demolition and construction gets underway, according to the staff report.

Tuesday’s meeting will see committee members vote to submit the $199.5 phase for funding under the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program’s public transit stream (ICIP-PTS), which would see Ottawa and Queen’s Park cover 73 per cent of the cost.

The submission would eat up the remaining $119 million the city has in allocated ICIP-PTS funding, which wasn’t used for the scrapped north and western legs of the city’s BRT system, according to the report.

No funding sources have been identified for the second phase, worth $133 million, with city staff noting in their report that a funding request will be incorporated into the 2024-27 multi-year budget.

Construction on the new facility would begin in 2025, with the new site capable of storing 252 buses and accommodating fleet expansion needs through 2047, the staff report says.

Read more: June 28: London Transit Commission says inflation and supply chain issues to impact delivery of new buses

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Speaking with Global News, London Transit’s general manager, Kelly Paleczny, said the new facility would have more maintenance bays that could accommodate articulated buses, and would have the equipment required to maintain diesel and electric buses as the fleet is gradually electrified.

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“The new facility will be able to transition us right through the next 10 to 15 year period and be able to accommodate all types of buses that we’ll have in the fleet,” she said.

“The first electric buses will operate out of our Wonderland facility. So we will undertake retrofits over there. That’s a newer facility, so it makes sense to retrofit that facility. Here, not so much, because we know the plans are to replace it.”

A 3D rendering of the current London Transit facility on Highbury Avenue. Google Maps

The $333 million cost estimate is roughly double an estimate made in 2019, when plans to replace the facility were first being considered after an assessment by IBI Group determined it had reached the end of its useful life

“Supply chain and inflation, and I would caution… we are comparing to the estimate that was provided in 2019. That was not a formal estimate. We did a facility needs assessment and just asked for a very high level cost estimate,” Paleczny said.

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“This time, associated with this business case, we’ve actually got a detailed costing estimate, so this one is just much more reflective of reality, but unfortunately current reality, where we see supply chain issues and inflation the way it is.”

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The city had originally planned to submit capital projects for funding after the completion of its Mobility Master Plan in late 2023, however changes unveiled in the spring federal budget accelerated ICIP-PTS federal submission deadlines from March 2024 to March 2023.

At the same time, project completion deadlines were extended six years to October 2033.

Over the summer, municipalities were told they had until the end of November to submit final applications to the province, prompting a vote in August by the previous council to recommend the city’s remaining funding be used on the LTC project.

The city has until Dec. 13 to formally submit the project to the provincial government, who will then submit it to the federal government.

Tuesday’s meeting will also see politicians vote to approve the plan’s budget, and allow city staff to carry out required budget adjustments.

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