Union Station renovations $22.8M over budget as project is delayed yet again

Union Station, the country’s busiest transportation hub, will continue to be a construction zone for several more months, and a report from city council says the ongoing revitalization project will be overbudget by more than $22 million.

Renovations that began in 2009 were supposed to be done by 2015

Renovations at Union Station have been delayed by several months and the project cost is likely to increase by $22.8 million. (Mehrdad Nazarahari/CBC)

Union Station, the country's busiest transportation hub, will continue to be a construction zone for several more months, and a report from city council says the ongoing revitalization project will be over budget by more than $22 million.

Renovations at the station, which were scheduled to be completed early this year, are now likely to continue through 2018, according to the report obtained by CBC Toronto. The entire project was initially supposed to be completed in 2015 but repeated delays pushed the timeline back to early 2018.

The report, which goes before the budget committee Tuesday and the mayor's executive committee on Feb. 6, notes that changes and additional requirements of Metrolinx's track level work have delayed the city's completion of its base building work on the revitalized Bay concourse and lower level retail.

City council will consider the report on Feb. 12 and 13.

"This is delaying the Union Station Revitalization Project by eight to 12 months, with a revised expected substantial completion shifting from early 2018 to the end of 2018," the report said.

The Union Station renovations, which began in 2010, were undertaken to improve commuter flow, create event space and restaurants, and create an eatery and retail area.

City officials have recommended that council approve a 2.8 per cent increase to the total project cost from $800.7 million to $823.5 million.

Mayor John Tory says he won't accept Toronto taxpayers footing the bill for the cost increases. (John Rieti/CBC)

In a statement emailed to CBC Toronto, Mayor John Tory said city staff have made clear in their report that the increased costs and further delays at Union Station are largely due to changes triggered not by the city but by Metrolinx, the province's regional transit agency.

"While I agree that these changes are necessary and will ultimately enable RER and SmartTrack, I won't accept Toronto taxpayers footing the bill for the resulting cost increases," Tory said.

"I am pleased to see city staff have a plan to finally complete this project and I know Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster shares that determination."

For his part, Verster said Metrolinx will work with the city to understand where the contractors have claimed these additional costs.

But he said Metrolinx would have no difficulty footing a portion of the bill, once it's determined to be their responsibility.

"We will very carefully work with the city to understand exactly where the additional costs have come from and of course we will take responsibility and work together to find out who must bear what cost," Verster told CBC Toronto.

"There is no difficulty to get agreement with the city; we work very closely with the city throughout and we'll find a way forward on all of these issues."

CEO Phil Verster says Metrolinx would have no difficulty footing a portion of the bill.

According to the report, the additional funding requirement is mainly the result of the coordination of ongoing and active projects at Union Station, specifically the co-ordination and interdependency with the remaining adjacent capital projects being undertaken by Metrolinx.

Significant work is being done related to updates to GO Transit infrastructure including the Union Station Rail Corridor Renewal, revitalization work above track level and the electrification of the rail network.

Metrolinx also has additional projects planned at Union Station that are currently being reviewed with the city.

The report notes that all of this work is required for GO Transit to meet its objective of providing two-way, all-day regional transportation service, and to increase capacity. From the city's perspective, this will also support components of the mayor's SmartTrack plan.

'Some difficult, fierce questions'

First opened in 1927, Union Station has been bursting at the seams in terms of capacity. It currently hosts 65 million passengers each year — a number estimated to rise to 130 million by 2031.

One of those passengers is Bradley Bauder, who says he travels through Union Station approximately three times per week. He said the delay will make his commute more difficult.

"Whoever really is in charge needs to be addressed and asked some difficult, fierce questions," he told CBC Toronto.

"Why are we so over time? Why are we so over budget? Could some of these things have been foreseen ahead of time? Could we have done smarter purchasing? Could we have used a better contractor? There are all sorts of questions that need to be addressed," he added.

Passenger Bradley Bauder says whoever is responsible for the cost overruns must answer some difficult questions.

Verster said he understands that passengers are anxious for the renovations to be over and assured that they will be happy in the end.

"When you look at contracts such as this where contractors are involved, [there are] complex activities,' he said.

"We have different customers that are travelling throughout the day and are affected by this throughout the day. I think the focus is how do we keep the operations going and unfortunately customers will be affected, but this is all in the interest of delivering a fantastic result for customers in the end."

As the project progressed, the area surrounding Union Station has undergone a transformation, with residential and commercial growth.

"It is becoming increasingly evident that the vision approved by council in 2006 is becoming a reality, with the station also acting as a commercial retail hub and a destination for culture, entertainment and dining experiences," the city report said.

"This transformation will carry on in 2018, as construction milestones are reached, more retail locations open, and programming and marketing activities continue to drive attraction to the station."

With files from Makda Ghebreslassie