Blog | October 14, 2014

By Elise Stolte, Edmonton JournalEDMONTON - The private company selected to build the Valley Line LRT will likely be required to accommodate the Folk Fest on Gallagher Hill, but don’t expect to find details in the request for proposals.More than 100 pages of the 278-page legal document spelling out expectations for the three companies bidding on the project were redacted before being posted online last week. Before they were blanked out, the pages contained details on technical requirements, urban design standards and requirements for financial proposals.

A 1,500-page project agreement containing detailed engineering diagrams was also withheld. The $2-million honoraria to be paid to each of the three private consortiums for going through the bidding process was blacked out, but released by accident in the initial posting.

“Why can’t we see that? I can’t fathom why any of that should be kept from the public,” said Bill Moore-Kilgannon, following the issue as head of Public Interest Alberta and as president of the Riverdale Community League.

The $1.8-billion LRT line between downtown and Mill Woods will be built and operated by a private company through a P3, a public-private partnership. It will be the City of Edmonton’s first deal of this kind, after an attempt to sign a P3 to build the Terwillegar recreation centre fell through.

The province has used P3 arrangements to build schools and the Anthony Henday ring road.

City council agreed to use a P3 model for the Valley Line to secure federal funding. Three teams of private companies were picked to bid on the project.

Moore-Kilgannon said community groups and homeowners have been nervously waiting for the request-for-proposals (RFP) document. Private homeowners at the top of the river bank, the Cameron Avenue Co-op near the proposed tunnel, the Edmonton Ski Club, Folk Fest and other community groups have specific concerns about the project.

As the city was designing the route, the groups were assured details addressing their concerns would be in the RFP, he said. It’s the document they need to hold the winning consortium to account.

“That’s the legal document, the architectural blueprint, if you will. If you don’t have the details in there, they don’t have to comply,” Moore-Kilgannon said.

The document makes a general statement about timing restrictions on using certain parts of the river valley to accommodate various festivals, but the details weren’t published.

“It’s pretty disappointing,” said Paul Bunner, civics director for the Cloverdale Community League. “We’ve been assuming the RFP was going to include more detail on the design than we’ve ever seen before…Now it turns out they’re not sharing very much information at all. If that’s everything we’re going to get, that defies the direction (administration) got from council.

“It matters a lot to the people in the valley and all the way along the line.”

The last time public consultation on the project was discussed at City Hall, transportation officials said they would release as much detail as possible.

Wayne Mandryk, manager of LRT design and construction, said the city redacted most of the details on the advice of advisers who had gone through the P3 process before.

The RFP should be considered a draft document, since the city would make changes if all three teams suggest something is unworkable or overly expensive, he said.

“We’re trying to maintain the integrity of the discussions.”

The corporate teams will likely spend more than $10 million preparing their bids and in the end, the city’s primary goal is to get three competitive bids. Staff don’t want a public debate at this stage, Mandryk said.

“It’s a new process for us. I guess I’d say we are being ultra cautious and following the advice of those who have gone before us.”

Much more of the request for proposals will be made public after the final contract is signed, he said, adding that he can promise the document does include results of the years of public consultation done during the initial design process.

The only other answer Mandryk can give concerned community groups? “Trust us.”

“We’re on a very tight timeline on a very large contract,” he said. “It’s the largest municipal contract in Alberta’s history.”

Coun. Amarjeet Sohi said council has been pushing to make as much information public as possible and the city has done extensive consultation on the line to date. The public needs to remember that RFPs aren’t usually public at all, even on projects that don’t involve a P3 contract, he said.

“There is no legal obligation on the part of the city to make this public,” said Sohi.

Valley Line LRT: Six things to know

Timeline: Technical proposals must be submitted by Sept. 18, 2015. If those pass, financial proposals must be in by Oct. 20, 2015. The city will pick a preferred proponent by Nov. 19, 2015. The line is scheduled to open on or before Dec. 15, 2020.

Risk: A P3 arrangement benefits a municipality by transferring the risk to a private corporation. But the city is open to sharing the risk involved in tunnelling into downtown, and has asked each team to put a price on that risk. There have been significant slope failures in the past and the ground is complicated by abandoned coal mines, a former landfill and former incinerator.

Payment: The winning team gets paid about half of the capital cost for the line in monthly payments during construction. The rest of the capital cost is paid out in fixed monthly payments over 30 years of operations. The company loses a payment for each month it’s late, a “huge penalty,” said Wayne Mandryk, manager of LRT design and construction. The company will also be paid for operating the line, and penalized if the trains are late or overcrowded.

Honorarium: The two unsuccessful bidders each get paid a set honorarium for the preparation work they’ve done. The amount has been set at $2 million, but could change, said Mandryk.

Changing the plan: A clause in the request for proposals allows Edmonton to cancel or change the project at any time without compensating anyone involved.

The players: The three teams bidding on the project are MovingYEG (including ACS Infrastructure Canada Inc., Hochtief PPP Solutions North America, Inc., and Stantec Consulting Ltd), River City Transit (including SNC-Lavalin, Kiewit and Alstom) and TransEd Partners (Bechtel, EllisDon and Bombardier Transportation Canada).

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For links and more highlights from the RFP,