The Eglinton-Scarborough Crosstown, the largest transit development in Canada, promises to create jobs and provide lasting social and economic benefits. With a budget of $8.7 billion for capital construction, this endeavour is the nation’s most expensive infrastructure project. Owned by Metrolinx, developed in part with Infrastructure Ontario, and to be operated by the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) upon completion, there are multiple layers of complexity to this ambitions development.
Moderated by Jennifer Drake, an associate at Goodmans LLP, the ULI panel discussion of the evening began with a conversation regarding the project delivery model, which has evolved since its inception. The Crosstown development itself is financed by a partnership between the public and private sector and will be the largest capital construction project in Toronto being realized by an organization other than the City. This complex project currently uses an Alternative Financing and Procurement (AFP) delivery model that clearly and neatly defines the roles and responsibility of participating parties. Jeffery Climans, director of major capital infrastructure coordination for the City of Toronto, noted that the delivery model years ago would have been a “Design-Bid-Build” model with very few constraints on scope, schedule, or budget. Rob Pattison, Vice President of Civil Project Delivery at Infrastructure Ontario, pointed out that under this traditional model, the owner pays the contractor and design-build team on measured processes rather than on delivered assets that can actually be used. As a result, over the course of the project the bargaining power of the contractor can increase at the expense of the owner.
For this complex project with numerous stakeholders, the benefit of the current AFP model over the traditional “Design-Bid-Build” approach is that it aligns the contractor’s interest with the public and owner’s scope, budget, and focus by paying the contractor on the delivery of assets and significant portion of capital cost via the financing process provided by the contractor throughout a maintenance period. This integrated approach has delivered excellent value and performance on budget.
For Daniel Haufschild, director of policy and planning at Metrolinx, the larger mandate of the Crosstown project has always been land development. While the TTC is concerned about operational needs and efficiency, Metrolinx is focused more on the creation of seamless connections and development options that does not sterilize the site. Lorna Day, the project manager of the Eglinton Crosstown Planning Study at the City of Toronto asserts that the city hopes the delivery model would have the ability for transit and urban growth to occur simultaneously in a controlled fashion through creative partnership solutions.
With that in mind, Patricia Simpson, director of the Transit Expansion Unit at the City of Toronto, pointed out that one of the biggest risks for this grand-scale project is actually acquiring all the properties, in which a partnership between government agencies and the private sector can help. Since Eglinton Avenue is a lively street with a right-of-way that goes right up to the building’s faces that lines the streets, the Expropriation process to acquire these private properties becomes an interesting issue that would affect the timeline of the project because the expropriation process can take between 12 to 14 months.
With a scheduled timeline for completion by 2020, coordinating and integrating numerous other city projects has been one of the greatest challenges. Climans developed and maintains a 5 year coordinating capital program, which involves annual city expenditures with billions of dollars for infrastructure and integrated utilities construction all over the GTA. With Metrolinks, Infrastructure Ontario also has an eye on GO station expansions, Waterfront Toronto developments, and the Pam-Am Games. It becomes crucial to make sure other programs share the same objectives on traffic impact on neighbours and that there are no conflicts between travel routes and venues.
From Infrastructure Ontario’s point of view, Pattison pointed out that one of the biggest difficulties in coordinating a project of this magnitude lies in the inherent complexity of the underground stations for Eglinton. These underground stations are typically located in busy intersections with a dense system of existing utilities akin to a plate of spaghetti. The organization also has to be responsive to people with legitimate interest and care in the city’s future development, particularly those who owns assets in the surrounding vicinity. From Rob’s point of view, the best way for the design to meet these constraints is to identify crucial issues early and address it. For example, AFP contractors would rather have bad news and restrictions early rather than hearing good new first then bad news later. This development has an unimaginable number of interfaces and it is extremely important to understand and communicate these various issues and constraints early on.
When it comes to planning, managing expectation has been one of Day’s biggest challenges. Overall, it comes down to stability versus change and one of the City’s objectives is to put forward a vision for change that is palatable for everybody. The planning team has engaged in different scales of conversations by speaking to residents and other stakeholders to identify issues. Day noted that there is a certain mythology about Eglinton Avenue and the vision would be one that speaks to the whole of the corridor and Eglinton’s role in the city while addressing As-of-Right zoning that needs to be put in place on a site-by-site basis to monetize investments and achieve Toronto’s growth objectives. Basically the vision has to be a crowd-pleaser. As a deliverable in addition to the City’s Mid-rise study, there will be urban design guidelines and zoning requirement put in place. The study could help to identify numerous opportunities and issues on a busy street such as Eglinton Avenue, the possibility for public spaces, traffic and public parking uptake, restricting areas where a mid-rise cannot be achieved as well as other zones for potential urban intensification.
On that regard, Pattison noted that with the zoning, set-back requirements, massing, and urban design guidelines in place, different teams could take that information and formulate designs acceptable to the public. The public can be engaged with a rendered image of the design, but often times it’s the only thing they want to see and as a result, can miss out on the whole story. In terms of the underground station (which is a complex organism that is inefficient, expensive, and risky when compared to an above ground station), it’s what you can’t see that matters. When the configuration of an underground station is moved a metre or so, seemingly insignificant changes can resolve major construction issues underground and save tens of millions of dollars.
Looking towards the future, there is a regional transportation plan that goes beyond Toronto. Although $8 billion has already been invested, Haufschild asserts that there is still a long way to grow. While anticipating the next wave of investment and funding for other rapid transit programs, the question will be how to design alongside these infrastructure developments in a way that maximizes integration for a seamless transition from one site to another. For Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario, the Eglinton-Scarborough Crosstown project is only the beginning in an expansion of networks beyond Eglinton and the city.
Danny SC Tseng
OAA Intern Architect
Quadrangle Architects Limited
Panelist included: Jeffrey Climans, Major Capital Infrastructure Coordination, City of Toronto Lorna Day, Eglinton Crosstown Planning Study, Project Manager, City of Toronto Rob Pattison, Vice President, Civil Project Delivery, Infrastructure Ontario. Patricia H. Simpson, Senior Solicitor, Director, Transit Expansion Unit, City of Toronto Daniel Haufschild, Director, Policy and Planning, Metrolinx