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Consortium building Eglinton Crosstown takes govt to court over COVID-19 issues

TORONTO — The consortium building a light-rail transit line across Toronto said Thursday that it was taking the provincial government to court over alleged delays and cost overruns related to COVID-19.

Crosslinx Transit Solutions said it had filed an application with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, arguing that provincial transit agency Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario weren’t addressing the pandemic-related problems with the Eglington Crosstown project.

CTS said COVID-19 had created unexpected issues like absenteeism, supply-chain problems, and subcontractors exceeding their budgets as they try to keep their workers safe during the pandemic.

“We’ve reluctantly moved to legal action because we feel we’ve exhausted trying to talk to Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario about COVID issues,” said Kristin Jenkins, a spokeswoman for CTS.

“They’ve refused to acknowledge the pandemic for the emergency that it is and to acknowledge the very serious impacts it has had on Crosslinx as well as our sub-contractors.”

Jenkins said CTS is asking the court to review its project agreement with Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario.

She added that the consortium hopes a judge will agree that the pandemic meets the contract’s standard of being an emergency, providing a process to have COVID-related impacts addressed.

Crosslinx said its analysis during the first wave of the pandemic estimated that COVID-19 will add at least $134 million to project costs in 2020. As a second wave begins in the province, CTS said it expects those costs to rise.

Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster said his agency had declared in February, well before the COVID-19 pandemic had begun, that the project would be delayed and completed only well into 2022. He said that the consortium has provided little proof that the pandemic has been directly impacted the completion date.

“In this instance, CTS’s demands are unquantifiable and we haven’t seen evidence of the level of claim that they’ve made and we’ve given them that feedback,” he said.

Ontario NDP transit critic Jessica Bell said in a statement that the legal action is proof that public private partnerships — also know as P3s — ultimately cost taxpayers more than a public delivery model.

“Ontarians deserve better than to pay, and pay and pay again for transit that’s delayed and delayed and delayed again,” said Bell, who also pointed out that the Liberal government that preceded Premier Doug Ford’s Conservative government already paid the consortium an additional $237 million to agree to a new delayed completion date.

Verster said such delays are inevitable on major transit projects, regardless of the delivery model.

Construction continues on the 19-kilometre light-rail transit line that stretches from Kennedy Road in Toronto’s east end to Weston Road in the west.

“The spirit of what we’re doing here, is to get the project, the Eglinton Crosstown, completed as soon as possible,” said Verster. “So we don’t allow items such as this to become a distraction for us and we keep on working very positively with CTS.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 8, 2020.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press

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