Special Report: Light Rail

Province Needs to Honour Commitments to Transit Investment

The Ontario Government cannot afford not to invest in coordinated higher-order transit if we want the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area to have a bright future.

By Ryan McGreal
Published August 29, 2012

According to Don Hull, Director of Transportation for the City of Hamilton, the city has "no formal notification from Metrolinx to confirm the funding formula" for Hamilton's planned east-west Light Rail Transit (LRT) line. However, the city has "been asked to look at cost mitigation alternatives, such as phasing the LRT construction."

Metrolinx is the arms-length Provincial organization mandated to coordinate and fund regional higher-order transportation projects across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA).

In an email response to RTH, Hull also notes:

[I]n the Staff report of October 2011, under Financial Implications, Staff reported that, "Financial impact analysis was prepared using a senior government grant assumption ranging from 100 percent to 50 percent funding."

The staff report [PDF] further notes:

Based on this assumption, the City's financial share of the LRT project could range from $0 to $509 million, which would be debt financed.

With other LRT projects that have been approved by Metrolinx for the GTHA, including the Eglinton Crosstown LRT in Toronto, Metrolinx is paying 100 percent of the direct capital costs and will own and operate the line.

According to Ancaster Councillor Lloyd Ferguson, Metrolinx officials have told Hamilton that the funding model has been that Metrolinx will fund 100% of the capital cost for a Hamilton LRT as well.

However, a spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Transport (MTO) recently told RTH that funding for Metrolinx projects that have not already been approved will be "determined on a case-by-case basis".

This came after Transport Minister Bob Chiarelli told Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina that "all municipalities are expected to be contributors" to Metrolinx projects in their jurisdictions, as Bratina summarized in a recent blog post.

According to Bratina, Chiaralli also asked whether "we had pursued LRT funding with the Federal Government." This is an ominous question, as it throws into doubt the Ontario Government's basic commitment to the principles that underlie Metrolinx.

Coordinated Regional Transport Strategy

The purpose of creating Metrolinx was to replace the previous ad-hoc approach to higher order transit investment with a coordinated, fully-funded regional strategy that would provide the GTHA with a functional transportation network to meet present and future needs.

After decades of underinvestment in regional transit, Ontario suffers from some of the worst traffic congestion in North America, with significant negative impacts on productivity growth and air quality.

Air pollution kills more people than breast cancer, prostate cancer or motor vehicle accidents. Locally, over 100 Hamiltonians die prematurely every year due to air pollution, of which more than half comes from vehicle exhaust - and in Hamilton, residential output of vehicle exhaust is getting worse, not better.

In any case, more highways are absolutely not a viable solution. As Paul Bedford, chief planner emeritus for Toronto and a former member of the Metrolinx Board told a Hamilton audience last year, it would require another four Don Valley Parkways and another four QEWs to carry the number of people who move through Union Station daily.

The cost of adding highway capacity is extremely high. One lane-kilometre of highway in Ontario costs around $25 million dollars, so a new 25 km, six-lane highway would cost around $3.75 billion to build - not including maintenance and life-cycle costs.

Adding more highway capacity in built-up areas with difficult terrain can bump the price by an order of magnitude: the cost of the Windsor-Essex Parkway is a crushing $168 million per lane-km.

Even if it were possible to build enough highway capacity to alleviate congestion, lane capacity itself generates more traffic in a self-defeating feedback loop. Ontario has been stuck on the highway "predict and provide" treadmill for decades, and it's not working.

Necessary Investment

The 25-year Metrolinx Regional Transportation Plan, titled The Big Move, states in part:

The emergence of the GTHA as one of the largest and fastest-growing urban regions in North America in the 1970s and 1980s was spurred, in part, by a regional transportation network that was ahead of its time.

In the last generation, however, we have not sufficiently invested in the region's transportation network. As a result, every year, congested roads and overtaxed transit systems result in billions of dollars lost from our economy through delays, wasted energy and dirty air.

We are releasing The Big Move at a time of significant economic uncertainty. Despite this, we believe that now, more than ever, acting on the recommendations in the RTP is critically important. The RTP will not only reclaim our region's traditional transportation advantage, but also bolster our global competitiveness, protect our environment, and improve our quality of life.

The Ontario government appears to be positioning itself to cry austerity and claim it cannot afford to keep funding regional higher-order transit, but the painful fact is that we cannot afford not to make these investments if we want the GTHA to have a bright future as an economically sustainable centre.

The GTHA is already suffering today from decades of underinvestment in regional transit. Putting off essential investments in connectivity will only continue to drag on our economic productivity while miring millions of commuters in gridlock and dooming hundreds of residents to early deaths.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By kettal (registered) | Posted August 29, 2012 at 11:56:30

Don't expect anything until Metrolinx releases their investment (tax) strategy.

Personally, I'm rooting for a referendum-backed sales tax for transit, like what they've done in LA.

How about a 8% tax on restaurant purchases under $4 (these items are currently HST reduced). Most commuters will be affected, and most will benefit from new transport infrastructure too.

It must be referendum backed, with a 20-year term to guarantee funding.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted August 29, 2012 at 13:24:27 in reply to Comment 80133

The rule is not entirely that simply, but generally "Qualifying Prepared Food and Beverages" with a value of under $4 are not subject to the 8% Ontario portion of the HST. I would note in passing that the $4 limit has been in place for many years, and with inflation the list of things that are still under that limit has greatly decreased.

There are a number of other exceptions from the provincial portion of the HST, and yes, eliminating some or all of these exceptions would raise revenue.

However, given that the current Ontario government specifically negotiated the maintenance of these exceptions when joining the HST, I think it's unlikely they will eliminate any of them.

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By kettal (registered) | Posted August 29, 2012 at 18:45:35 in reply to Comment 80140

Doesn't have to necessarily be HST or called HST. Makes little difference to the consumer, although I guess it changes the accounting for business purposes.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 09:12:59 in reply to Comment 80158

It does. Imposing such a tax is tricky and expensive (I'm a tax policy analyst and tax lawyer). However, it's a possibility.

But, if you're a politician who wants to impose the Tim Horton's Tax, may god have mercy on your soul.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted August 29, 2012 at 12:27:05 in reply to Comment 80133

An 8% tax on all restaurants whether or not they are accessed by transit will be a tough sell... and rightfully so. Why does some restaurateur's business have to shoulder the tax load? It is tough enough already to keep a restaurant open.

We have fuel taxes, tire taxes, new vehicle taxes, fuel consumption taxes on new vehicles, there are many more applicable tax resources to draw upon to fund transit... it just doesn't happen. Sure more taxes MAY be needed but the real problem is an acute lack of leadership and vision not to mention agencies that were created to help becoming big parts of the problem.

No tax is going to fix that.

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By kettal (registered) | Posted August 29, 2012 at 18:49:28 in reply to Comment 80136

"An 8% tax on all restaurants whether or not they are accessed by transit will be a tough sell... and rightfully so. Why does some restaurateur's business have to shoulder the tax load? It is tough enough already to keep a restaurant open."

All restaurants are accessed by public infrastructure, whether it be sidewalks, roads, or transit. All modes stand to benefit from improved transport funding.

Commuters of all shapes and sizes seem to line up for a cup of coffee in the morning, and Tim Hortons pretty much has a license to print money with their profit margins.

Perhaps a universal sales tax across the GTHA is better? I'm just saying it should be paid for by every citizen, because we all benefit.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted August 29, 2012 at 13:30:33 in reply to Comment 80136

I think you may have misunderstood the proposal.

Generally sales taxes are not paid by the restaurant themselves (i.e. they are not shouldering the tax load). With sales taxes, the tax is imposed on the consumer, and the restaurant is merely acting as the government's agent in collecting the tax from us at the point of sale.

Contrast that to income tax, which is paid out of a company's profits.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted August 29, 2012 at 13:52:00 in reply to Comment 80141

They certainly are shouldering the load, it is their customers who have to pay it and it is them who will have to suffer the potential loss of business increased costs to customers can bring, not to mention taxing low dollar food/meals is arguably a regressive tax. To tax one business type in order to support transit is just nonsense.

It also doesn't change the fact that a "lack of taxes" really isn't the problem.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 09:46:44 in reply to Comment 80144

As an additional tax it's not the fast food chain that is suffering for the extra $0.32 in tax per $4 item - that extra tax comes out of a person's pocket generally, and the effect is spread across all businesses that person interacts with. The impact on any one individual restaurant or establishment is negligible.

For example, people will still buy their $2 bagel, but they'll paid $2.26 for it instead of $2.10. Those extra $0.16 cents won't result in people skipping a bagel once every 14 days - they'll make it up somewhere else - maybe they'll buy 1 less item at the dollar store every month. You generally can't tie the effect of an indirect tax to the particular establishment offering a good or service being taxed.

In terms of it being a regressive tax - all sales taxes are regressive, that's why we have both federal and provincial programs to give back some of those funds to the poorest in society. Besides, maybe part of that extra 8% tax (which would be paid by all, not just the poorest) will be redistributed to the poorest in the form of increased provincial benefits.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 11:40:48 in reply to Comment 80200

In terms of it being a regressive tax - all sales taxes are regressive

No they aren't, sales and consumption taxes do not have to be regressive if applied correctly.

And despite all your arguments on whether the proposed tax will or will not affect the businesses, you still have not justified taxing one TYPE of business. I simply don't and won't agree with that mode of funding for transit. Why does anyone think restaurants need to be taxed? Or is the no tax on food items under $4 just a convenient void to add another tax?

Besides, as I said before, a lack of taxes isn't REALLY the problem. We may want to look at how and what we spend our money on... but that will never happen as long as so many people can be convinced more taxes are needed on the little guy to get what they want and/or need. That mindset is as misguided as the mindset of slashing taxes while still thinking we can keep and maintain everything we have.

I do not and will not support raising taxes on the middle and lower class.

Comment edited by Kiely on 2012-08-30 11:41:20

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By kettal (registered) | Posted August 29, 2012 at 20:02:07 in reply to Comment 80144

I think the main affected customer is the coffee drinker on his morning commute. That was my reasoning, but you could be right about the uneven burden.

I don't have enough data to know exactly who would be affected.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 09:39:50 in reply to Comment 80162

I believe originally the intention was that a "working man's pr-packaged prepared lunch" would be exempt from the old provincial PST. This exception was carried forward to HST, but as I noted the amount hasn't been increased at all. It might have made sense at the time, but unless it was increased to keep pace with inflation, it's only becoming more and more useless over time - in which case maybe it's best to do away with it altogether in the interest of tax simplification.

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By Sigma Cub (anonymous) | Posted August 29, 2012 at 13:20:45

Anything is possible after Ontario's deficit dragon is slain in 2017-2018. (Or, if you put credence in the Conference Board of Canada's analysis, 2021-2022: http://goo.gl/G0Kao )

All we need to do now is obtain binding contracts with the cabinet of that period.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted August 29, 2012 at 14:41:31

We could cover the entire "worst case" (50%) share of LRT by simply NOT building a new trunk sewer and road system to service the proposed Aerotropolis.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted August 29, 2012 at 16:52:51 in reply to Comment 80147

Yes, and as far as I know there has been no objective benefits case analysis, similar to the one done for LRT by Metrolinx, determining whether such an investment would even pay off economically, especially taking into account the negative social and environmental impacts of paving over agricultural land on the edge of the city.

Maybe we should ask the Province to commission a BCA directly comparing the economic and social costs and benefits of the two projects?

It is important to remember that we have not decided to stop spending lots of money on infrastructure in Ontario, our decision is how to spend this money wisely.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2012-08-29 16:53:14

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 29, 2012 at 21:25:32 in reply to Comment 80153

this is a great idea. I'm stunned that we're planning to spend that kind of money with no study on the ROI...well, actually I'm not stunned...

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By Fait Accompli (anonymous) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 14:18:25 in reply to Comment 80163


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By Mr. Bump (anonymous) | Posted August 29, 2012 at 17:08:45

Ontario municipalities must ask themselves if they can afford to continue allowing police and firefighters to bank unused sick days during these tough economic times, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Wednesday.... “Municipalities are going to have to ask themselves those kinds of questions, but from our perspective those are one of the things that we’ve got to take a new and fresh look at today,” he said.


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By Collector (anonymous) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 06:58:13

Metrolinx's position: "We cannot continue to rely solely on Provincial funding for future transportation projects given our current fiscal environment."

The agency came up with a blue sky plan but has a dirtlot budget. $11.5 billion is the extent of it. And we're already 5 years into the 25 year plan, with little to show for it. These are only some of many inconvenient truths about Metrolinx. Another is that the agency's mandate includes highways -- and hence the pending improvements to the 403 and 45 km extension of Hwy 407 East (aka GO Transitway) fall under the Metrolinx aegis.

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By Gauche Transit (anonymous) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 08:06:24 in reply to Comment 80166

Just as long as they can swaddle themselves in PR BS like Art Train No. 9 that enhances users' self-regard while doing absolutely nothing to implement meaningful policy.

The shiny sponsorships and conspicuous branding are simply a fig leaf for an agency that has a mandate but no authority or resources. Treading water is not a form of transportation.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 09:50:20 in reply to Comment 80170

Not sure why they chose the train they did to serve as an "art train" - it's one of those old ones with the ridiculously low headrests (they're basically neckrests) and washrooms on the mid-level...

I had an option to sit on it, but took the next train car over instead due to the headrests issue.

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By Gauche Transit (anonymous) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 09:54:03 in reply to Comment 80202

"Not sure why they chose the train they did"

Lipstick, pig, etc

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted August 30, 2012 at 07:58:00 in reply to Comment 80166

I wonder what Ontario's highway-lane-mile per capita is (compared to other provinces)?

We seem to have way more than we need.

THe wastefulness of paving areas of this scale simply to support the rush hour hump (and having it sit underutilized or even empty for 12 hours a day) seems to be lost on us:

empty 401 Photo from http://www.flickriver.com/photos/lonepri...

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 11:48:49 in reply to Comment 80169

We seem to have way more than we need.

...and yet it's never enough!

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By LOL (registered) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 09:29:20 in reply to Comment 80169

And yet we have some of the busiest highways in North America. Raising taxes or implementing new ones is economical suicide. Taxpayers are at their limit and simply cannot afford to pay any more.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted August 30, 2012 at 09:42:07 in reply to Comment 80188

I don't think you understand the enormous costs of roads.

IF we built alternative systems so that fewer people would be forced to use highways daily, then we would save money.

The initial cost of providing alternatives will be high, but the ongoing savings would eclipse that cost over time.

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By bear bones (anonymous) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 09:35:24 in reply to Comment 80188

There he is! So if you accept that our highways can be busy and also sometimes empty, why can't you accept that streetcars are busy and also sometimes empty?

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 09:33:13 in reply to Comment 80188

This clearly can't be the case as taxes were higher some years ago and taxpayers didn't cease to exist because of them. But yes, I prefer solutions that don't increase overall burdens.

The 401 (none of the others are comparatively busy) is busy because it works. It's a great system so people use it. That doesn't mean we need to build more highways; we built a massive one that is practically empty because of the short-sightedness of the government that built it.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted August 30, 2012 at 09:40:46 in reply to Comment 80191

I would argue that the 401 is busy because most people have no alternative. Nobody who suffers rush hour daily on the 401 would say "it works". We spent so much time and money expanding the 400 highways that we ignored very other mode. We have the slowest, lumbering regional rail system in probably the world. It's an embarrassment. And we spend so much subsidizing highways that we can't afford to subsidize rail - so we have a false economy where - to the average user - the highway is cheaper than the train.

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By bear bones (anonymous) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 09:27:52 in reply to Comment 80169

Where's the guy who was complaining about empty streetcars in Portland when you need him?

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 09:18:59 in reply to Comment 80169

Oh, and Sean: I love that picture.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 09:18:31 in reply to Comment 80169

I can find data on this for the US, but not Canada. Anyone have the data anywhere?

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By Malex (anonymous) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 10:08:02

Hamilton Magazine's website poll is about the LRT...so far, 56% say they'd support increased taxes to bring LRT to Hamilton.


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By Sidetrack (anonymous) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 14:51:34 in reply to Comment 80211

"..mass-transit networks stand to lose most from out-of-control infrastructure costs.

A huge part of the problem is that agencies can’t keep their private contractors in check. Starved of funds and expertise for in-house planning, officials contract out the project management and early design concepts to private companies that have little incentive to keep costs down and quality up. And even when they know better, agencies are often forced by legislation, courts and politicians to make decisions that they know aren’t in the public interest."


"Railroading has, like almost all industries, made great strides in labor productivity since its inception more than two centuries ago.

From the replacement of horses with steam engines in the 19th century to the elimination of drivers entirely with recent generations of automated trains, railway engineers have been relentless in the pursuit of more efficient transit.

For the past 50 years, however, this progress has eluded passenger rail in the U.S. While unions and management squabble over wages and benefits, the overarching issue of labor productivity remains unresolved. The resulting high labor costs drag down service, prevent new lines from opening, and depress ridership and revenues.

Inefficient use of labor is found throughout American transit, but nowhere more so than with the nation’s regional, or commuter, railroads. Built decades before the first subways, these lines are some of the oldest, and their labor practices are antiquated. As a result of their high labor costs, regional railways are treated as a luxury commuter service for suburbanites, with few attempts made to operate the lines more like the high-frequency, low-cost rapid transit that they have the potential to be."


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By Marquesse (anonymous) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 13:50:19 in reply to Comment 80211




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By highwater (registered) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 11:02:47 in reply to Comment 80211

Last time I looked it was over 70%.

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By Simon (registered) - website | Posted August 30, 2012 at 13:22:25

Maybe if the province didn't do stupid things like waste $180 MILLION to cancel a power plant mid-construction in order to appease NIMBY voters in the middle of an election - they would have some money to actually invest in long term projects.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 13:39:01

I have to drive to get to work, to get my kids to were they need to go. I need to drive to see a movie or a play. I need to drive to listen to a concert or the waves at the shore. I need to drive to see the doctor and the dentist. I need to drive to visit my family and friends. I need to drive to enjoy a day at the park fishing. I need to drive for a multitude of things. Just like the vast majority of people in this city, province and country.

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By Simon (registered) - website | Posted August 30, 2012 at 15:36:15 in reply to Comment 80233

Like most people I drive pretty much everywhere too. And I get really pissed if I'm slowed down by traffic - which is usually slow because of volume - or because someone decided that they are more important than everyone else and caused a collision.

I might continue to drive everywhere even if usable transit was available. But some people wouldn't. Every car that gets take off the road because of transit makes my drive better.

So if you actually prefer to drive - why wouldn't you want to drive on an empty road?

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By C (anonymous) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 14:31:35

I drive everywhee too, but I strongly support LRT and other alternatives so that those that would choose them would reduce traffic problems, ease road conditions and escalating costs associated with automobile based development

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By Chevron (anonymous) | Posted September 11, 2012 at 17:08:00

"Ontario government agency Metrolinx announced Tuesday its board of directors approved a $320-million construction contract for a tunnel on a light rail transit project in Toronto.

The contract to bore a 6.2-kilometre tunnel underneath Eglinton Avenue was awarded to Crosstown Transit Constructors, a consortium comprised of Kenny Construction Co., Kenaidan Contracting Ltd., Obayashi Canada Ltd. and Technicore Underground Inc."


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