Along Eglinton Avenue signs of construction of the new Eglinton Scarborough Crosstown LRT are springing up. Road closures, piling rigs, excavators and the familiar sound of backup beeping are all part of the largest transit infrastructure project in Canada in over 50 years. While work is progressing steadily, with tunnelling contracted and started in June, the project is not without its controversy and objections.

Metrolinx, TTC, Eglinton Crosstown LRTCrosstown train passing through a station, image courtesy of Metrolinx

The Ontario Association of Architects has raised concerns about the procurement process for the $1.75 billion architectural component of a bundled Request For Proposal worth about $4 billion in total. The Metrolinx project calls for 13 stations and a works yard building, plus non-architectural components consisting of track, signalling, and bridges. At the heart of the OAA's concern is the overwhelming size of the procurement and the subsequent lack of competition: with such a large contract, only two large firms have expressed interest in the project. By breaking down the contract into smaller segments, the OAA argues that Metrolinx could save millions by allowing small and medium sized firms to bid as well, which through competitive pricing would bring costs down.

Bill Birdsell, President of the OAA puts it this way: "The bundled size of the contract is bigger than any one Ontario firm can handle. Its sheer size also makes a proposal too expensive to put together. As a result many of Ontario's larger firms will not compete because they cannot afford to lose."

Metrolinx, TTC, Eglinton Crosstown LRTTunnel boring machine drive system and sediment trailer on June 5, 2013 Launch Day, image by UT member Jason Paris

One major risk in any procurement is political intervention, and with the recent Scarborough Subway vs LRT debate being fired up again, Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig was quick to note that the agency is having difficulty getting contractors on board. The increased uncertainty of the eastern leg of the project has created increased risks for contractors and has the potential to increase overall costs creating a more prohibitive bidding environment.

By breaking up the contract into smaller segments there is the potential to reduce risk and cost on certain segments of the line while bringing in smaller firms for increased competition and lower prices to Metrolinx, the OAA argues.

Metrolinx, TTC, Eglinton Crosstown LRT, City of TorontoBathurst Station intensification on station site, image courtesy of City of Toronto

While it may seem on the surface that a bundled contract should bring down the price through volume purchasing, the true effect of the size of the contract is to raise prices as no local firms are able to enter the bidding process, highly restricting its competitiveness. In the end, work that should go to local firms will go out-of-country to large multinationals, and will cost more. It's a lose-lose proposal, for Ontario's architects, engineers and contractors, as well as for Ontario taxpayers.

Metrolinx, TTC, Eglinton Crosstown LRT, City of TorontoDon Mills Focus Node, image courtesy of City of Toronto

City planning staff, meanwhile, are currently completing their Eglinton Connects Study which will set out design guidelines and development policies for the corridor in coordination with Metrolinx. The department is advocating for increased development on station sites with multiple focus areas slated for highrise investments. Ultimately, the chosen contractor(s) will need to adhere to the approved policies and guidelines set out between the City and Metrolinx.

As the story of the Crosstown continues to evolve, UrbanToronto will keep you posted with the latest. Stay tuned as well as a future story will take a closer look at the construction techniques involved in tunneling under Eglinton.

For information on the future stations along the route, check out our dataBase pages below. Join our great  Forum discussion of leave a comment below to have your say on the Crosstown LRT.