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July 13, 2011

City of Ottawa unveils cheaper light rapid transit tunnel project

OTTAWA

Ottawa’s light rail transit system took an important step toward becoming a genuine construction project last week when Mayor Jim Watson announced that a revised plan for the tunnel under the downtown core means the whole project can be brought in at $2.1 billion, the amount originally planned.

Watson made his announcement during a speech before an invited audience of federal and provincial officials, local businessmen and councillors.

The mayor had worried publicly several times about the cost of the original proposal, saying he couldn’t support it if it appeared to be running over budget.

But city staff were able to allay his fears by reworking the tunnel plan to shorten it somewhat, and re-routing it so it could be shallow instead of plunging as much as 12 storeys underground to get below deep underground services and unfavourable rock conditions.

The result will be a tunnel costing about $493 million, instead of the $700 originally planned. That saving is important because of inflation. The $2.1-billion estimate for the entire project was in 2009 dollars.

Watson said he is now confident that the project is affordable.

Other council members who had worried about the cost, including transit commission chair Diane Deans, also expressed their happiness with the change. As a result, final approval by city council is now a foregone conclusion.

The total project will be 12.5 kilometres running east and west, with the tunnel running 3.2 km across the downtown core.

The system will have 13 stations, four of them in the tunnel.

The surface portions east and west of the core will be built on an existing bus-only transitway.

Federal and provincial governments are each contributing $600 million to the project, with the city picking up the rest.

City treasurer Marian Simulik said the city wants the consortium finally chosen to build the project to fund some of the cost, perhaps as much as $300 to $400 million. “They’ll actually be a partner in the project,” she said.

The city has issued a request for qualifications for the project.

It outlines the evaluation criteria that will be used to identify respondents with the skills and experience necessary to deliver the project.

Respondents will have to demonstrate their success in design, management, construction commissioning and maintenance of LRT projects of similar size and scope.

The RFQ expires Sept. 13. After a month of evaluations, the city will publish a short list of qualified respondents who will be invited to respond to a request for proposal.

That RFP process will last nine months, with the winning firm then completing negotiations with the city. The final contract is to be signed by December, 2012, and construction completed within five years.

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