RAV line builder shaves $42m off price

Monday, November 29th, 2004

‘I think we have a fully financed project’: McCallum

Jonathan Fowlie

The proposed Richmond-Airport-Vancouver rapid-transit line is a hair’s-breadth away from being fully funded after the company bidding for the massive project knocked $42 million off its price tag, TransLink chairman Doug McCallum said Sunday.

“I think we have a fully financed project,” McCallum said, clearly satisfied at efforts to close a $106-million gap in funding.

The remaining money for the line is expected to be committed by the province in a meeting Tuesday.

McCallum said that to bring the cost of the system down, top employees from SNC-Lavalin/Serco — the group whose newly priced $1.72-billion bid will be put to a crucial vote by the TransLink board Wednesday — worked around the clock for close to eight days to find ways to make the project more efficient.

During this process, the company looked at minute details, McCallum said, trying to reduce waste and determine details such as exactly how much concrete will be used, and the exact curve of the rail at all points of the system.

McCallum added that beyond finding those efficiencies, SNC-Lavalin/Serco cut money out of its bid to allow the cost of the line to meet the level of money currently available.

SNC-Lavalin/Serco spokeswoman Zdenka Buric said she could not say specifically what the company had done until after the bid is officially accepted, but it has been “working diligently to close the gap.”

McCallum also said that, because the contract stipulates that any construction cost overruns will be paid for by SNC-Lavalin/Serco, the $1.72-billion figure is the final price of the RAV line.

“I think we have a good project for the region,” he said.

Given the reduction by SNC-Lavalin/Serco, the only missing piece of the funding puzzle is the $65-million contribution being considered by the province.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” B.C. Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon said Sunday about the province coming up with that money.

Falcon will take a request to the provincial government’s treasury board Tuesday asking it to contribute the $65 million needed to finish the financial side of the RAV deal.

Falcon said Sunday he believes it will be easier to sell his colleagues on approving the funding now that the private sector has offered help.

“[The $42 million cut] demonstrates that everyone is doing their bit to try and manage down the $106-million gap,” he said, “and that goes a long way towards doing that.”

As details of the price reduction were made public on the weekend, however, so too were some of the concessions that had to be made earlier in the process to reduce the cost of the RAV line from SNC-Lavalin/Serco’s original bid price of $1.899 billion.

As a result of those cutbacks, the bid will no longer cover several elements, including: the replacement of selected areas of overhead trolley lines; 59 ticket vending machines and 38 ticket validating machines; and a police unit to operate on the RAV line.

While this off-loading helped to reduce RAV’s pricetag, some argue it simply hid the cost by shifting necessary services onto TransLink’s operating budget.

“As far as we’re concerned, what they’ve done is handed millions and millions of dollars off to TransLink from the RAV project, which means GVRD taxpayers lose again,” Don Toffaletto, chair of the Rethink RAV coalition, said Sunday.

TransLink can’t afford this,” he said.

In response, McCallum said the items that have been cut from the original contract are things that logically should not actually be part of the pricetag for RAV.

“It’s not something where we will have to spend more money,” McCallum said. “What we have said is that those [elements that were cut] really don’t fit into this project.”

As an example, he pointed to the removal and replacement of overhead trolley infrastructure.

“We’ve just approved a new trolley building down in south Vancouver and we have our trolley buses coming in,” he said. “When you are looking at costs, we’re going to have to do that anyways, so why should it be part of [RAV]?”

But Toffaletto said TransLink would not have to incur these expenses if the RAV line was not being built, and even though there may be overlap with other parts of the TransLink system, the money should be included in the budget for RAV so people know the total cost.

Others continue to be upset about the cuts as well, including Coun. Harold Steves of Richmond, who is upset that the line will not go as far into Richmond as originally planned. He said it will effectively cut out the most densely populated portion of the area.

To bring awareness to the issue, Steves said he plans to join with others at about 2 p.m. today in a protest along the proposed line that will involve stopping a bus.

“I think the significance is to show where the line is going to end,” he said. “I don’t think anybody in Richmond knows that it’s not going the whole route.”

Steves and most other Richmond council members are opposed to the plan for the RAV line to be elevated along Richmond‘s No. 3 Road because they say it will be ugly and hurt business in the area. They will meet Ravco and TransLink today to discuss the issue.

© The Vancouver Sun 2004

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