Costly Delays Slow Union Station Revitalization Project

The Union Station Revitalization project, one of Canada’s Top 100 infrastructure projects in 2014, is facing numerous setbacks due to mismanagement, unnecessary delays, internal disagreements, cost discrepancies and, most crucially, the lack of an approved schedule.

The costly project, which has already seen its budget swell from an initial $640 million to $800 million, is the largest of its kind to be undertaken by the city of Toronto. The overhaul of Canada’s busiest transit hub includes improvements for all transit sources, expanded PATH connections, glass-covered entrances between the subway and GO concourse, a second passenger concourse, a new train shed for GO transit, and retail space below the station. Important portions of the project were slated to be finished in time for the 2015 Pan American Games, but there are questions as to whether this deadline can still be met.

Richard Coveduck, Toronto’s director of design and construction, admitted to The Globe and Mail that it is indeed “unusual” for the city to directly handle such an expensive project rather than hiring a private firm, but he maintains that the problems plaguing Union Station aren’t solely derived from that choice. The century-old structure has foundation issues, a number of heritage features to preserve, and is still operational during construction. These factors have combined to complicate the work and slow down the process of rebuilding.

However, consultants hired by the city to keep the project on track identified a series of other issues. Problems with Carillion Construction, the managers of the project, included incomplete schedule proposals, questionable billing practices and missed deadlines, in addition to a lack of cost control measures and insufficient record keeping. Coveduck has the freedom to end the contract with Carillion and choose another company to complete the project, a decision which will be investigated later this year.

A slew of emails obtained by The Globe through a freedom of information request reveal disagreements and mounting frustration from city bureaucrats regarding Carillion’s performance. Correspondence between the city and Go Transit also show contention over issues such as which party should shoulder the additional cost of installing larger elevator buttons for accessibility reasons.

The city’s decision to take on the project rather than delegating it to a private firm may be the cause of much of the controversy. Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the public works committee, suggested to The Globe that it might be prudent to consider more public-private partnerships in the future. “The private sector brings in private sector discipline, where projects are finished on time and on budget,” he said.

 

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