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Capital Transit Partners contract to FEDCO next week: who does what on light rail?

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Building a new light rail line is a massive and complex undertaking. A report coming to our finance committee next week sheds some light on the many players involved, and is a good opportunity for me to write about how some of the challenges of the first phase will hopefully be overcome in the second. Anyone interested in who is responsible for what in building light rail, and with what accountability, may find it interesting. 

No one disputes that there is room – a lot of room – for improvement in how light rail is built with greater transparency and public oversight. In this post, I want to preview how the project is designed and built, and where we’ll need to be vigilant with respect to:

  • how construction-related detours are accomplished;
  • the principles that will guide station design;
  • how stations will be accessed by pedestrians, bikes and cars; and,
  • how the public will be notified of construction-related impacts.

This isn’t an exhaustive list. The final product will be the result of thousands of different decisions. As it turns out, the City has been relying on a joint venture company called Capital Transit Partners to help us make those in the first phase of LRT, though many of  the decisions were left to Rideau Transit Group to decide after the contract award.

We can learn from phase I to avoid several mistakes in phase II. None of us in the community were sufficiently alert to the different decision points that led to, for example, the current bus detour challenges. We are all frustrated by the slow flow of information from RTG – which was never optimally set out in the contract. And, we all want to know before anyone signs a contract what principles will guide station design.

At next Tuesday’s finance committee meeting, it will be recommended that CTP be given a new contract (worth around $40-50 million!) to provide consulting engineering services, and then an extension to the contract as LRT is being built for project management services (as much as another $20 million). All the decisions that go into LRT require hundreds of people to analyze and make recommendations on.

My first exposure to (CTP) was just last week. A representative sat in on a working group I’ve established that meets to talk about the Scott Street bus detour. I was as mystified as the other residents as to who they were, and how CTP is different from the City, or from the Rideau Transit Group that is designing, building, and eventually operating the Confederation Line.

To understand CTP’s role, it’s worth looking at the stages that LRT will go through. Last week, I wrote in my newsletter about the environmental assessment process that the City has undertaken with the province to secure permission to build LRT according to the plans presented to Council in June. Assuming that permission is forthcoming, what’s next?

Right now, the City has plans for the second phase of light rail that are what they call a “functional design”. Enough engineering has gone into those that the City is confident it can build what it wants within the budget it expects to have.

Like in phase I, the City will contract a private company to design and build the line, which will be the result of a request for proposals (RFP). That RFP will set out the requirements that the City has for the line. 

To get to the point that contenders know what they’re bidding on, the City will use CTP to do much more detailed engineering work that will be the foundation of the RFP. Some of the details will be left to the bidders to suggest in their bid, some will be designed as they go, and some will be very narrowly defined by the City based on CTP’s work.

So what does that mean for us? The process is the same as was used in the first phase, but I’m seeking some key changes:

  • The RFP should specify how buses will be detoured during construction, based on consultation, and not left to the bidders to suggest;
  • The principles that will guide station design – particularly with respect to visual and other impacts – should be clearly set out; and,
  • The RFP should set out up-front requirements for communicating items such as construction detours, schedules, etc.

Based on my first conversations with the City, I’m confident that we’ll achieve these. In the run-up to issuing an RFP, it will be up to CTP to work with the City to describe those. The resulting RFP will then go to Council before being issued, so we’ll have a chance to ensure that our input has been heard and incorporated.

My commitment is to keep abreast of where the design work with CTP stands, and to work proactively with residents when there are decisions to be made, seeking the broadest possible consultation. Our leverage is that Council needs to vote on the RFP before it’s issued; I’ll be working with the City to ensure that we know exactly what we’re being asked to sign off on.

As for next Tuesday’s meeting, you can read the report online. The CTP contract is proposed to be awarded as a “non-competitive” (sole-source) contract. Sole-sourcing has been the source of controversy in past. I’ve read the rationale, though, for this instance, and accept that it’s likely to result in the greatest value to Ottawa taxpayers. 

Posted August 28, 2015