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Head of Toronto Water says TTC warned of possible sewer replacement costs

Karen Stinz, TTC Chair and Toronto city councillor and Andy Byford, chief executive officer of the Toronto Transit Commission, scrum with reporters at City Hall in Toronto on March 27, 2013.

chris young The Globe and Mail

The head of Toronto Water says they told the TTC that aging utilities under a proposed streetcar route "should be considered," undercutting the transit service's argument that they couldn't have predicted sewer replacement work that caused ballooning costs.

But transit spokesman Brad Ross countered that the city signed off on the environmental assessment, which didn't look at underground impact, and argued it would have been impractical to do exhaustive analysis of every site under consideration.

Plans to put a short spur line on Leslie turned into a political hot potato after it became known that the project, which initially carried a working estimate of $14-million, will now cost $105-million.

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Critics have rounded on the TTC's budgeting process, saying the transit service chose not to include underground impact in their environmental assessment for the project, artificially lowering its estimated cost. Projections need to reflect a more complete picture of costs, TTC Chair Karen Stintz acknowledged Wednesday morning.

"We need to start giving estimates that are more reflective of the work that needs to get done," she told reporters, explaining that even though early estimates can take on the air of "gospel," changing circumstances can cause the price to escalate.

Appearing with Ms. Stintz, TTC CEO Andy Byford insisted that the route continues to be the best option.

The bulk of the project's new and higher cost is for sewer replacement work that transit leaders insist couldn't have been foreseen. Wednesday afternoon, though, Toronto Water general manger Lou di Geronimo said they warned the TTC when it chose the route that the 1930s-era sewers in the area would need to be taken into account.

"Whenever we do environmental assessments in Toronto Water ... we always try to look at all issues, that's something that we've learned, so of course we would have raised it to say, we need to consider all the costs associated with the project," Mr. di Geronimo told reporters. "We would have provided comment to say underground utilities should be considered."

The back and forth comes amid bubbling controversy over the higher costs.

Local Councillor Paula Fletcher, who has opposed the route and argues the transit agency did not do proper due diligence, told reporters the TTC needs to produce "predictable" budget estimates.

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Fellow Councillor Josh Colle said the budget problems with this project were "too common" a narrative for the transit service.

"There really shouldn't be a shock in a city of our age and complexity in terms of our infrastructure system that there would be that layer beneath the asphalt that we'd have to consider," he said.

With a file from Elizabeth Church

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About the Author

Oliver Moore joined the Globe and Mail's web newsroom in 2000 as an editor and then moved into reporting. A native Torontonian, he served four years as Atlantic Bureau Chief and has worked also in Afghanistan, Grenada, France, Spain and the United States. More

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