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Rescue of boring machine trapped under Toronto street turning into expensive, years-long odyssey

The work to rescue a multi-million dollar boring machine trapped beneath a west Toronto street has been delayed again, with the city warning it might not be the last set-back before the complex work is wrapped.

Timeline for rescue now December, city staff say some restoration work to take place next spring

Construction workers look down into a hole in the ground.

The rescue of a multi-million dollar boring machine trapped beneath a west Toronto street has been delayed again, with the city warning it might not be the last set-back before the project is wrapped.

City staff told residents last month that the project, which was supposed to have been completed this fall, is instead expected be finished by December. Some additional restoration of the street — Old Mill Drive near Bloor Street West — will not take place until the spring.

"Everyone in the neighbourhood is just feeling increasingly frustrated," resident Tanya Boswick said. "It feels as though this project is just never going to end."

A notice sent to residents blames the complexity of the project, taking place underground in confined spaces with "variable conditions" for the delay. But staff warn in the notice that it might not be the last such delay.

"The current schedule represents our best estimate based on known and observable factors," the city said in an update on the project last month. "However, due to variable underground conditions, weather, and other potential unforeseen circumstances, the schedule is subject to change."

'Nightmare' of a project: resident

Boswick said residents have been struggling with a stream of heavy-equipment, dirt and vibrations since the project began. She's skeptical about the revised timeline.

"We're going into winter with a ton of parts of the neighborhood that are in disrepair, we have noise constantly all day," she said. "We can't get a moment of rest and moments of reprieve from the nightmare of this project."

The delay is just the latest problem the city and contractors have encountered with the project, which has nearly tripled in price since earlier this year, with costs jumping to $25 million — up from the approximately $9 million price tag in March.

The city says the contractor now needs to do as some of the remaining work "sequentially rather than simultaneously" which will add months to the timeline.

Mika Raisanen, a director in the city's engineering and construction services department, says grout used to stabilize the ground had seeped into the shaft by the machine. That led to a further delay as workers cleared it out.

"It looks like [the boring machine] will be removed in the next few weeks and that really is a major milestone for us because then we can continue with the remaining work and wrap things up," he said.

The work to dig a new storm sewer on Old Mill Drive began in March 2022. The project was designed to address chronic basement flooding in the area. City staff opted to use a remote-controlled micro-tunnelling boring machine, which is 1.5 metres wide and five metres long to create the new sewer tunnel.

The plan was for the machine to be placed 18 metres below ground and have it travel 282 metres to a pre-constructed exit shaft on Bloor Street West. Workers needed to place it deep underground to avoid coming into contact with the nearby Bloor-Danforth subway line.

But with just seven metres left to go on its route, the machine hit 14 underground steel tiebacks, which had been part of the construction of a nearby condo building. It became ensnared in them, and is now twisted and turned off course.

The machine is worth approximately $3 million.

City moving 'as quickly as possible' to safely complete work

Raisanen said the machine must be removed from the ground to finish the basement flood protection work. Contractors had initially hoped to rescue the machine by early April. The rest of the sewer work was estimated to be completed by this fall.

He said he understands the residents' frustration with the latest delays.

"They can be assured that we are moving things forward as quickly as we can and as safely as we can for the workers and the public," he said.

Angela Lamb lives in one of the condo buildings overlooking the project. She'd like the project to wrap up, but while she has patience for the work, other residents feel resigned to the inconvenience.

"It's a rescue operation and our building calls her Betsy," she said of the boring machine. "They're trying to rescue Betsy. It doesn't look easy. They're down there with shovels by hand."

John Guglielmo lives down the street from the construction site across from the pit where the boring machine was first placed underground. That hole still remains open but is fenced off.

Residents at that end of the street also had to cope with a year of construction on nearby Etienne Brule Park prior to the sewer work. They're tired of the delays, he said.

"We're looking at over three years total where our neighborhood has been under major construction," Guglielmo said. "It's disruptive to us."

He's urging the city to wrap up the work in December and then get to the bottom of everything that went wrong.

"I think we deserve the answers for the money we pay in taxpayer dollars," he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shawn Jeffords

CBC News

Shawn Jeffords is CBC Toronto's Municipal Affairs Reporter. He has previously covered Queen's Park for The Canadian Press. You can reach him by emailing shawn.jeffords@cbc.ca.

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