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Kerr Street underpass project derailed

Budget overrun of more than $100 million leads province to abandon project
Competitive Business - Burloak Underpass
Competitive Business - Burloak Underpass

Plans to tunnel a Kerr Street underpass beneath the GO train tracks have been dropped by the province’s transportation agency Metrolinx.

The project, a key piece of infrastructure needed to move north-south traffic over the busy train tracks safely, has been in the works since 2009.

Construction on the underpass was originally scheduled to start in 2021 and last about three years.

Last week, Metrolinx informed town staff that they wouldn’t be moving forward with the project because costs had risen to $233 million from the original estimate of $130 million.

“They felt the cost was too high and not good value for the taxpayer,” Jill Stephen, the town’s director of engineering and construction, told the Feb. 28 meeting of town council.

“While the project has been said to be deferred, there is no timeline for when it will be reviewed again, so there essentially is no Kerr Street grade separation project on the books for Metrolinx at this time.”

Cancellation of the project – a key piece of infrastructure that is critical for mobility in Oakville, leaves the town “in a very difficult position,” Stephen added.

GO expansion and electrification plans could see as many as eight trains per hour cross Kerr Street by 2025, in addition to the VIA trains and freight traffic using the corridor.

She said that the result would be “significant delays to road-based traffic” as train service increases.

Kerr Street is a key route for funnelling traffic from Glen Abbey to the GO station.

Metrolinx has said it will be making upgrades to pavement markings and signal arms to improve safety, but Stephens said they also indicated there would be a point when the level crossing is no longer feasible.

The Kerr Street underpass was to have provided badly needed bike lanes and sidewalks, improved efficiency of Oakville Transit routes and supported nearby development nodes.

A few weeks ago, Oakville councillors considered a plan to redevelop the plaza at Kerr and Speers Road to accommodate 11 residential buildings ranging in height from 8 to 28 storeys.

The town has spent nearly $7 million on projects related to the underpass, Stephen said.

Burloak underpass moving forward, with a higher price tag

The Kerr Street blow wasn’t the only bad news that Metrolinx dealt the town last week.

The price to build an underpass at Burloak Drive has nearly tripled from original estimates, which could cost the town an extra $30 million.

A negotiated cost-sharing deal for the underpass called for Metrolinx to pick up half of the estimated $60 million cost, with Burlington and Oakville each kicking in $15 million.

With a $177 million deal now signed to complete the project, Metrolinx wants both Oakville and Burlington to cover 25 per cent, or about $45 million each.

The Burloak grade separation project has been in the works since 1994.

It was originally to have been constructed between 2019 and 2021. It is now to be completed by about 2027.

“The unexpected cost increase related to Burloak and ignoring the urgency of getting the Kerr Street grade separation raises a significant concern for us in terms of the transparency, the cooperation and the communication that we’ve had with Metrolinx in this very short while, after several years of working with them quite closely in order to move these projects forward,” Oakville CAO Jane Clohecy told councillors.

Mayor Rob Burton raised safety concerns, saying, “I had understood they are among the most dangerous of level crossings in the province.”

Stephen said that Metrolinx studies reported the two Oakville crossings as “very highly rated in terms of needing to be replaced.”

The underpasses were also intended to support the increased GO service levels that will arrive with the planned electrification of the Lakeshore West line.

Burton said the news would reduce public confidence in the province’s ability to manage big projects.

“With regard to the estimate of when the electrification will be done, I believe it’s possible that the public, upon hearing this news, might conclude that a province that can’t produce underpasses on budget or in time is unlikely to produce electrification of the Lakeshore (GO) on time or on budget,” he said.