Council rejects move to question Trillium Line construction delays

Ottawa city councillors are willing to wait until May to ask questions about whether SNC-Lavalin is four months behind on the expansion of the north-south Trillium Line, which is due to reopen in August 2022.

SNC-Lavalin had told city officials it was 116 days behind schedule

A file photo of SNC-Lavalin widening the rock cut of the existing Trillium Line from Bayview Station to Beech Street. Council voted 16 to 8 against a move to add discussion of the Trillium Line construction delays to Wednesday's council agenda. (City of Ottawa)

Ottawa city councillors are willing to wait until May to ask questions about reports that SNC-Lavalin is about four months behind on its rail expansion of the north-south Trillium Line, due to reopen in August 2022.

They voted 16 to 8 against a move by Coun. Shawn Menard to add Trillium Line construction to Wednesday's council agenda.

Menard and colleague Diane Deans wanted to know why councillors only learned of a possible 116-day construction delay from a CBC News report.

CBC reported last week that in a 500-plus page schedule update report to the city dated Jan. 15, 2021, SNC-Lavalin stated that "the analysis indicates 116 days of delay." That could push the opening into 2023, and a new term of city council.

"Taxpayers have a right to know if there's a delay, and this is the board of directors of the corporation of the City of Ottawa and we need to be told in a timely fashion," said Deans.

She was the first to raise the point, just as council was about to approve an extra $15 million to fight lawsuits with the Rideau Transit Group consortium that built Stage 1 of the LRT, of which SNC-Lavalin is a member.

City won't 'throw dates around'

Deans and some of her colleagues said they wanted to avoid a repeat of Stage 1 of LRT, which saw the first trunk of the Confederation Line handed over to the city in 2019 after multiple missed deadlines and 456 days late.

"I can tell you, looking at the Trillium Line, it most certainly is not on time. Anybody with any view of what's happening out there would know we're not on time, and we deserve to know why that is," said Coun. Catherine McKenney, whose Somerset ward abuts the existing Trillium Line that is closed for upgrades.

City manager Steve Kanellakos, however, said information presented to the finance and economic development committee on March 2 — that pegged the delay on construction of the Trillium Line to the airport and Riverside South at 40 days — was "the best information we have."

On March 2, 2021, councillors on the finance and economic development committee were shown this image of construction underway at South Keys Station, where the Trillium Line will have a transfer point for a spur line to the Ottawa airport. (City of Ottawa)

SNC-Lavalin's 116-day estimated delay is "full of assumptions" and "not right," he said.

The city has hired "world-class" third-party scheduling experts, including outside legal counsel Sharon Vogel, to validate construction schedules. Kanellakos said Vogel should be present if councillors wanted to discuss the Trillium Line at the finance committee in May.

"We're not coming back to council just throwing around dates without any validation," Kanellakos told reporters. "It's not a question of not providing information to council. We'll provide the accurate information to council when we have it." 

No 'half-hearted discussion'

Coun. Keith Egli was among the two thirds of council who voted against adding Trillium Line construction to Wednesday's agenda.

"It makes no sense to me to throw an item of this importance on the agenda at the last minute, with absolutely no notice, to have at best a half-hearted discussion," said Egli.

Menard said he wasn't looking for a big discussion with public delegations and experts, but to get a single question answered.

"Why is council hearing about information through the media? It's not the first time and it shouldn't be happening that way," said Menard.

Mayor Jim Watson, meanwhile, was asked by reporters if he knew of the longer delay back from January's report. He said he was only briefed on the finance committee presentation on Stage 2 LRT construction a few days before that March 2 meeting.

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