Toronto

Dupont Station accessibility project years behind schedule

More than five years after launching a project to install a three-storey elevator for people with disabilities at Dupont Station, the Toronto Transit Commission says the project is still unfinished with no end in sight.

Delays are 'dispiriting and soul-crushing,' says accessibility advocate

Samantha Walsh says delays in the Dupont station project leave her feeling like her needs are not being taken seriously. (Mike Smee/CBC)

More than five years after launching a project to install a three-storey elevator for people with disabilities at Dupont Station, the Toronto Transit Commission says the project is still unfinished with no end in sight.

Public consultations on the Dupont Station Easier Access Project were held in the spring of 2014, at which time the TTC gave a tentative completion date of late 2017.

Since then, two other target dates have come and gone.

"Right now about 54 per cent of the work is complete," TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said Thursday.

"It's frustrating for us, it's frustrating for the community."

Both Green and Coun. Jaye Robinson, who chairs the TTC, said problems with the contractor hired to complete the elevator installation — Bondfield Construction — are to blame for the delays.

In addition to hardships faced by riders with disabilities, drivers have been coping with traffic tie-ups caused by the project at the busy intersection since 2015. (Mike Smee/CBC)

Green said the company has missed several scheduling targets, and was eventually warned it wouldn't be permitted to bid on any other TTC projects until the Dupont Station elevators were installed.

In an email on Friday, company president Steven Aquino wrote: "Bondfield does not wish to comment on allegations made by the TTC at this time. We appreciate you giving us an opportunity to respond."

In April, Bondfield applied for, and was granted, the court's protection from creditors. That protection is in place until next month, court records show.

Drawing of the proposed elevator system being installed at Dupont Station as part of the TTC's Easier Access Project. (Toronto Transit Commission)

Green said the TTC has been working with Bondfield's insurer, Zurich Insurance Group, to help determine a new completion date for the project.

"There is some minimal work happening at Dupont," Green wrote in an email, "but not to the level that is required at this time."

The completion date "will be sometime in 2020 at earliest," the email reads.

Meanwhile, accessibility advocates say they're frustrated with the delays.

Wendy Porch, executive director of the Centre for Independant Living, says the delays just add to the frustration felt by people waiting for a fully accessible TTC. (Mike Smee/CBC)

"Knowing that this has been going on for years just adds to the frustration," said Wendy Porch, executive director of the Centre for Independent Living.

"It feels like this is not a priority."

She called the delays, regardless of the cause, "dispiriting and soul-crushing."

Samantha Walsh, who uses a wheelchair, said she's also upset by her lack of access to the station.

Although no firm date has been set, TTC spokesperson Stuart Green says the TTC hopes to have the Dupont elevators completed some time in 2020. (Paul Smith/CBC)

"Really, I don't feel like an authentic Torontonian because I don't have access to the TTC," she said. "It's incredibly disappointing. I'm confused why such a high traffic area is having this issue.

"I don't want to be an afterthought to the city I love."  

In a TTC presentation to public meetings about the project in 2014 and 2015, staff identified several "challenges" in installing elevators at Dupont.

Fitting new elevators into an old structure, the impact on local utilities, and finding a way to install elevators without marring the station's trademark murals were among those challenges.

One of the challenges that the TTC identified in the Dupont accessibility project was installing elevators without damaging the station's extensive public art. (Mike Smee/TTC)

At a meeting in 2015, the same year that Bondfield was hired to do the work, the original 2017 completion date had been pushed back to late 2018.

But by 2017, Green said, it was clear the project was falling behind schedule. 

"We actually issued a warning to the contractor to say, 'You're not meeting the performance targets. That's of concern to us. If you don't pick up, we're going to take action,'" he said.

"One of the actions we have taken was to forbid them from bidding on any future projects while this project was ongoing."

TTC chair Jaye Robinson says the Dupont project 'seems to be taking forever,' but that similar work at other stations is being well received. (Mike Smee/CBC)

Shortly thereafter, he said, Bondfield's financial problems began to emerge.

By 2018, the TTC had revised the completion date of the project yet again, this time to late 2019 — a target date that's now become obsolete, Robinson said.

The original cost of the project was just over $10 million. Green said that's been revised slightly to $10.8 million, of which $4.6 million has been spent.

Dupont is just one of dozens of projects the TTC has underway in an effort to make all 75 stations accessible. Forty-five have been completed so far, he said.

The accessibility project at Dupont station began in 2015, but a series of delays means the work is still only about half done, the TTC says. (Mike Smee/TTC)

The Easier Access Project is scheduled to be completed by 2025, Green said, and most of the upgrades are happening on schedule.

"This one has been an outlier," he said. "This has been a particularly problematic project for us."

Coun. Robinson echoed that sentiment.

"It's been exciting when we've been able to roll these out because we're really getting great feedback at the stations where we've been successful in making this happen," she said.

"Unfortunately Dupont is not one of those cases. It seems to be taking forever ... Now, the truth is, we don't have a completion date."

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