Friday, December 18, 2009
The Eglington LRT Dillema: Expropriations, or Major Cost Overruns (Or Both)
The Ambitious Transit City Plan that Metrolinx has designed for the GTA is now getting beyond big picture planning, and into the actual nuts and bolts. To this point, there have been few real costs estimates for the project. Perhaps worse is that no one seemed to alert the public to the possibility of eminent domain use in order to expropriate inconveniently placed homes and businesses. At a recent community meeting, York South Weston Councillor Frances Nunziata revealed that 100 properties would be directly affected by the Eglington light rail line. In order to avoid expropriation, some residents are calling on the government to build the relevant sections of the line underground. Before rushing into a project of this magnitude, someone should have a look at the numbers. Here are some quick facts:
The proposed line is 33 kilometers long (just over 20 miles). The cheapest light rail line built in the last decade cost $31.1 million USD/mile ($33 million Canadian). This was a short rail line along an interstate in Charlotte, North Carolina. Obviously, construction costs will be much higher in Toronto, even if it is entirely above ground. A more likely comparison is the Pittsburgh North Shore extension, a portion of which is underground. That project came in at $243.7 million US ($260 Canadian) per mile. That would bring the cost of the Eglington line to $5.33 billion Canadian Dollars. I should stress that these numbers are taken directly from a pro-light rail organization's website, so it is unlikely that the numbers are exaggerated. The project is projected to cost $4.6 billion dollars. If they increase the proportion of the line that runs underground, my $5.3 billion dollar estimate could look conservative. This also fails to take into account the fact that the average North American light rail line has run 35.8% over budget.
To reiterate: the city plans to spend at least $4.6 billion dollars to replace the current bus routes on Eglington. That is enough to purchase 10,000 of the most expensive transit buses ever constructed (hybrid, of course). This will have little effect on congestion. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that in Portland, the poster child for light rail, the massive investments in light rail only took 1300 cars off of the road during rush hour. That amounts to $225 USD per car every day. At that cost, it would actually be more cost efficient for the provincial government to pay corporations to incentivize telecommuting. $5.3 billion dollars could convince a lot of people not to drive through rush hour traffic. I'm not suggesting the government actually spend this money, but at least it would actually reduce congestion.
One more thing I neglected to mention: the Eglington line only accounts for 33 of the 125 kilometers of rail the city plans to build. Don't be surprised if the total budget for the initiative approaches $20 billion.