The province has issued the request for qualifications to narrow the field of contractors that could bring SkyTrain to the Tri-Cities.
Who wants to build the Evergreen Line?
The province is officially asking contractors to put their name in the hat to bring SkyTrain to the Tri-Cities, after issuing a request for qualifications (RFQ) on BC Bid Monday.
"It marks the start of the formal procurement process," said Liberal MLA Iain Black (Port Moody-Coquitlam). "That is something that's a very important milestone. It is yet another milestone in this thing moving forward, and we're very excited about that."
The Ministry of Transportation uploaded a 124-page document to the province's website on competitive bids that details what will be required of the contractor that will eventually be awarded the job of building the line.
The summary design and construction scope is one of the tallest orders for a job description out there; builders will be expected to obtain the necessary permits, approvals and authorization according to federal and provincial regulations, and conduct site preparation, including demolition of existing buildings where needed. Companies are also expected to conceptualize the line: designing and building guideways, stations, a vehicle storage facility, road and civil works, utility relocations and traffic management.
The line calls for a combination of elevated and at-grade guideways, as well as an approximately two-kilometre-long tunnel to be bored through Clarke Road hill.
Lougheed Station must be expanded to accommodate a junction with Evergreen, and five stations are planned. Three potential future stations are also expected to be part of the project.
And, according to the RFQ, it all has to be operational by Dec. 31, 2014.
"The project plan, the only one that I've seen that shows the target of having the Evergreen Line completed in 2014, is very much on track," Black said, refuting recent claims by the City of Burnaby that the project is behind schedule.
"I was a little bit surprised to see the City of Burnaby weighing in on this last week in the way they did, and drawing some conclusions that affect both the project office and the men and women who have been working on this. It's quite an inconsistent observation that they've made and, arguably, an uninformed one."
Part of what makes the Evergreen Line RFQ unique from Richmond's Canada Line is the wording of the requirements: the ministry is seeking qualifications from private partners capable of designing, building and financing the Evergreen Line.
According to the RFQ documents, the value of the work to be completed is between $900 million to $1 billion, and the primary contractor "will be responsible for obtaining the financing required to complete the design and construction of the Evergreen Line" in excess of partial payments made to the contractor during construction. "The amount of financing required is estimated to be approximately $400 million," the RFQ states.
It's the incorporation of that financing element that disappoints Diane Thorne, NDP MLA for Coquitlam-Maillardville. Thorne said the interest rates at which the province borrows funds are lower than those of private companies, because the BC Transportation Financing Authority can loan money at a lower rate.
"We can borrow money at probably a quarter of the cost of the private sector. That's a real problem," she said.
"If you're going to borrow the money anyway, if someone is borrowing the money to pay for a project, which is almost 100 per cent of all government projects, why wouldn't the person who can borrow it at the best rate borrow the money?"
However, Douglas Horne, Liberal MLA for Coquitlam-Burke Mountain, defended the public-private partnership (P3) as a way to ensure project costs are kept in check.
"It's about taking risk away from government," he said. "One of the big complaints that people make over time when we go into these large projects is that they take a lot longer than people think it should and that they end up costing a lot more money than we initially anticipate. One of the things the P3 model does is it takes that risk of both time and money away from government."
Thorne, meanwhile, expressed interest in the timing of the RFQ, given the environmental assessment has yet to be approved.
"They have to dig right through the mountain. It's a dicey proposition. It's not like a flat surface, and it's a little bit more complicated than that," she said. "The environmental assessment is key and they won't know that until at least the fall."
Builders have until Sept. 7 to submit their qualifications. The ministry will then select up to three companies to take part in the next phase, which will be a request for proposals.