Activist questions RAV Line schedule

The Straight

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Two years and two court cases later, Rand Chatterjee is still convinced there is “no possible way” the $2-billion RAV can be finished on time.

InTransitBC, the TransLink subsidiary overseeing the project, must be finished tunnelling in the spring of 2008. By November 30, 2009, the Canada Line rapid-transit trains have to be in service.

“I don’t know how they can do it,” Chatterjee, director of the doRAVright coalition, told the Georgia Straight on December 8. “They finally started [construction] the first week of December [2005]. According to their own reports, they are behind in almost every area.”

In his hometown of Boston, Chatterjee said, he witnessed firsthand the Central Artery/Tunnel project—otherwise known as the Big Dig—which took 20 years to complete, cost $14.6 billion (up from its original $2.5-billion estimate), and has been plagued by leaks and a recent tunnel collapse. He said he has always feared a repeat here in Vancouver and worries that the construction disruptions will hurt the city economically and environmentally. He has also taken his cause all the way to the BC Court of Appeal, which dismissed a legal challenge by doRAVright on October 30.

“I have to say something,” he said. “Otherwise, this is just going to keep happening in other cities.”

Chatterjee also has a lot to say about the Canada Line October 2006 quarterly report (for July to September), available at www.CanadaLine.ca. The cut-and-cover segment of the report states that, “while the work is currently a little behind schedule, the productivity at each heading is now greater than scheduled”.

On construction-phase costs, the report notes that “milestone payments are $66.3 million lower than budgeted due to delays principally related to construction of the North Arm Bridge”. The cut-and-cover summary at the end of the report adds: “Four faces [sic] of cut and cover work are under way and cycle times achieved indicate that the schedule will be advanced.”

Steve Crombie, InTransitBC public affairs vice president, told the Straight there is “absolutely no reason to believe this project will not be finished on time”.

“We’re not in this to fail and not meet the contractual commitments we’ve made,” Crombie said by phone. “It’s very easy to take pieces of information and manipulate them the way you want to. If you take one isolated part and manipulate it, you can take it to mean anything.”

Chatterjee insists he only goes by what is in the reports.

The TransLink board approved the Canada Line as a public-private partnership (P3) in 2004. It will run 19 kilometres from downtown Vancouver to central Richmond and Vancouver International Airport.

“As of right now, we’ve completed 98 tunnel [concrete] pours out of a total of 400 that we will have done when the cut-and-cover section is complete,” Crombie said. “The average length of each pour is 15 metres. We’re working with four sets of tunnel forms. We originally had three, but we have a fourth front opened up now.”

Added Crombie: “If you take an overall look at it and you spread it out over the period of time that we have to do it, things are going to speed up and slow down. But if we know what rate we can achieve on any given day, we can calculate it out. We’re re-evaluating that all the time. And if we’re not in service by November 30, 2009, we’re going to be facing very severe financial penalties.”

COPE councillor David Cadman—a former TransLink director who voted against RAV twice—said that it may be useful to know what those penalties are. However, the private-sector aspect of the P3 prohibits making that information known.

“The first question is, ‘What are the penalties?’” Cadman told the Straight. “And does this mean additional person power [to make up for any delays]? We’ve already seen they have been able to hire foreign workers at considerably below market rate.”

Cadman said he also doesn’t discount the possibility of “additional contracts” coming through that will mean total project costs pile up.

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