Toronto council calls for independent, third-party review of Eglinton Crosstown project
Posted December 15, 2022 7:07 pm.
Last Updated December 15, 2022 7:31 pm.
Toronto city council has formally called on the Ontario government to conduct an independent, third-party review of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT construction project as soon as it has finished.
“Eleven years of waiting for Metrolinx is enough for the residents in the middle of Toronto,” Eglinton–Lawrence Coun. Mike Colle, who moved the motion, said during Thursday afternoon’s council meeting.
“We’ve put up with construction and traffic hell.”
Colle and Toronto–St. Paul’s Coun. Josh Matlow initially called for a public inquiry, but that request was changed at the council table. Some expressed concerns about the costs and how its scope would be set. There have been calls by others in Toronto, including small business representatives, to have a public inquiry into the Eglinton Crosstown project.
Matlow, who echoed Colle’s concerns about traffic, said residents and small business owners have suffered throughout the course of the project. He also said the move is part of a broader push to get answers on the indefinite delay that has hung over the Eglinton Crosstown project in recent months.
“If you try to ask Metrolinx … you get stonewalled. You don’t actually get answers, nothing meaningful, nothing comprehensible,” Matlow said during the meeting.
“Money keeps going out the door without any accountability.”
Davenport Coun. Alejandra Bravo made an argument for a public inquiry, saying the head of it would have the ability to legally compel testimony if need be.
“People in my ward have been affected time and time again,” she said.
- Public inquiry and minister’s explanation needed on delayed Eglinton Crosstown, councillors say
- What lessons of damning Ottawa LRT report can be applied to Eglinton Crosstown LRT?
- Some neighbourhoods choking with traffic as businesses await Eglinton Crosstown delay info
- Transportation minister won’t say what new timeline is for delayed Eglinton Crosstown
- Eglinton Crosstown project needs public inquiry amid delays, communication issues: BIA
Mayor John Tory, who came out against a public inquiry, said on Thursday, “a lot of things have gone wrong” with the project and cited a lack of transparency by Metrolinx (the provincial agency overseeing the Eglinton Crosstown), Crosslinx (the private-sector consortium building the line) and the Ontario government.
“Most of what they’re frustrated and concerned about is a lack of information, a lack of communication, a lack of transparency,” Tory said, agreeing with the need for an independent review.
“We need to learn those lessons, and we need to learn them sooner than later.”
Colle and Matlow’s motion, which was backed by council, also called for Ontario Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney and Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster to appear before councillors by the end of January to implement an “Eglinton Avenue small business survival plan,” property tax rebates for residents impacted, funding for fare-free Eglinton Avenue buses until the Eglinton Crosstown opens, and funding for traffic wardens to help ease congestion at bottlenecks.
CityNews contacted Mulroney’s office after the vote to ask for a reaction to the motion, but a representative wasn’t immediately available for comment. This story will be updated if a response is received.
On Friday, the two councillors outlined at a news conference information provided by a whistleblower. Those documents, along with several pages that were part of a lengthy internal Metrolinx report from September obtained by CityNews, painted a picture of trouble at that time.
Staff cited a number of troubling issues, such as the lack of a “credible” plan to deliver the project, cost overruns, health and safety-related issues water and mould problems at certain locations. It’s not clear how many of those issues remain a problem today due to little information being released by the Ontario government, Metrolinx or by Crosslinx.
CityNews contacted Crosslinx, Metrolinx and Ontario Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney’s office on Friday to ask for comment on the findings listed in the documents. Crosslinx referred questions to Metrolinx. A Metrolinx spokesperson said the agency is working to open the line as quickly as possible.
“The public needs transit that is effective and reliable from the onset, and we will only accept completion once we are satisfied that this has been achieved. Metrolinx will continue to push Crosslinx Transit Solutions to ensure this project is completed,” the statement said.
When a CityNews reporter asked Mulroney on Friday if she would commit to arranging for a briefing for members of the public and reporters in order to better understand what’s occurring. She didn’t give an answer to that question.
“I know that people are so frustrated by this project. It’s been going on for a very long time. We inherited this project from the previous government, and there are technical issues that still need to be worked out,” Mulroney said in response.
“We want to make sure that both Crosslinx and Metrolinx work out those technical issues. We all want it to open as soon as possible.
“They deserve a system that operates well and operates safely when it does.”
A CityNews 680 reporter asked Mulroney on Friday if she was concerned about reports there isn’t a “credible” path to getting the project completed.
“The path towards completion is working through these final technical issues that Crosslinx and Metrolinx are currently negotiating, but the path to opening is to make sure we have a system that’s well-tested and ready to open safely,” she said.
“I share the frustration. This has been a very long go for so many people who live along the line, who work along the line … everybody wants to see the construction come to an end, and they want to see the Eglinton Crosstown open.”
- Business owners frustrated over another Eglinton Crosstown delay
- Metrolinx confirms delayed Eglinton Crosstown LRT won’t be done by end of 2022
- Community doubt rising that Eglinton Crosstown LRT will be done by year-end target
- Is the Eglinton Crosstown LRT still on track to be finished by the end of 2022?
It’s been nearly two-and-a-half months since Metrolinx made the long-suspected announcement of another delay to the line, which was supposed to open in 2020. Work on the line began in 2011. The details were contained in a Metrolinx blog post with no information on the specific reasons for the latest delay and what the new projected opening date is.
Since the delay was announced in September, CityNews has pushed several times for further information, such as the new targeted opening date, along with a breakdown of where and what the outstanding issues are. Despite more than half a dozen inquiries being sent to Metrolinx, Crosslinx and Mulroney’s office, many of those messages and questions have to date, gone unanswered.
Various delays, including COVID-19, supply chain issues and labour union strikes, have plagued the Eglinton Crosstown. Complex and unforeseen construction-related issues also impacted timelines.
A previous legal settlement between Metrolinx and Crosslinx aimed to have substantial completion in 2022. This is a couple of years beyond the initially planned date. Informal estimates suggested the LRT line could open sometime by the end of 2023, but Ontario government officials aren’t confirming either way if this is accurate. The internal September estimates contained in the documents had the station at Yonge and Eglinton finishing last, and at the time, that was pegged for the end of March 2023.
One of the biggest complaints about the Eglinton Crosstown from those CityNews has spoken with to date surrounds a lack of information from the province. Several business owners and residents said updates haven’t been coming.
A judge leading a public inquiry into Ottawa’s new LRT system, a probe launched by the Ontario government after a series of mishaps, released a damning report at the end of November. Justice William Hourigan made 103 recommendations specifically relating to Ottawa’s LRT system and in an effort to help guide major public transit infrastructure projects.
Hourigan’s recommendations revolved around ways to improve planning complex infrastructure, preparing estimates and budgets for projects, picking a model for how projects will be delivered, ways to reduce risk when projects go out for tender, creating “effective” contracts, ways to resolve disputes, independent oversight, testing and commissions, safety, training, trial runs and handing over the project, how to have better working relationships and transparency.
There were also a series of recommendations dealing with communications, including calls to advise stakeholders on changes to construction plans and to develop a process to “honestly identify and communicate reliability and safety issues.” The report said communications should “be focused at all times on furthering the public interest” as it relates to the Ottawa project.
“As an overarching consideration, a public agency must prioritize the protection of the public interest,” the document said.
“The public has the right to safe, reliable infrastructure and to receive regular and honest communications from the government regarding its construction status and operations.”
Council is now considering Item MM2.1: Request for Metrolinx Accountability and Financial Compensation Regarding the Ongoing Construction Delays of the Eglinton Crosstown https://t.co/DwgDVAwXZB #tocouncil
— Toronto City Clerk (@TorontoCouncil) December 15, 2022