January 23, 2012
The provincial agency building new rapid transit in Toronto is urging the city to figure out what it wants, after the TTC chair expressed her opposition to burying the entire 19-kilometre light rail transit line along Eglinton.
Karen Stintz is zeroing in on an eastern section of the Eglinton-Scarborough-Crosstown, from Brentcliffe Road to Kennedy Station, that was forced underground at Mayor Rob Ford’s insistence. Ms. Stintz favours placing surface tracks on the suburban stretches that are wide enough to accommodate them, if the money saved can then be used to extend the Sheppard subway.
“We do want to see Eglinton built, no question,” said Ms. Stintz. “I guess the bigger question is, could we build more transit” this way, said the chair, who pitched the idea as a “potential compromise” on a council divided between the Ford administration’s transit vision, and those who still resent the Mayor for cancelling a series of surface light rail lines in favour of a tunnelled corridor.
Mayor Rob Ford has firmly opposed light rail tracks on roads, and would not broach the topic on Monday during his morning weigh-in.
“It’s clear that we’re getting some mixed messages from the City of Toronto,” said Bruce McCuaig, president and CEO of Metrolinx, the regional transit agency. “We’re looking to the city and council to land on a single position. No matter what that decision is, we’ve worked with them in the past, and will continue to work with them.”
Last March, Mayor Ford and Premier Dalton McGuinty announced a new deal that scrapped Transit City — a plan that included an underground Eglinton line in the core and surface light rail as it moved into the suburbs — in favour of spending all $8.2-billion of provincial funding on the Eglinton-Scarborough-Crosstown. It is to run predominantly underground from Black Creek Drive to Kennedy Station, and continue on what is now the Scarborough Rapid Transit route to Scarborough Town Centre. The project is to be completed by 2020. In exchange, the city would assume responsibility for the Sheppard subway extension, a Ford campaign promise.
Mr. McCuaig said Metrolinx has detected no change in direction from the Mayor’s office, but Ms. Stintz said “discussions” have been ongoing.
“If there is an opportunity to get Sheppard started, I think that’s something that we would like to explore,” she said. The $4.2-billion project was to rely heavily on private sector funding, but Gordon Chong, the man charged with coming up with a business plan for the subway, said that would only cover 10 to 30%. Building the LRT east of Brentcliffe on the surface instead of underground could free up $1-billion to $1.5-billion, said Ms. Stintz, who added that the environmental assessments to proceed at the surface are also complete. “This is a consistent position that I’ve had since last June, that if we can build a piece of Sheppard to Consumers Road or Victoria Park, and perhaps get the money by not burying a section of Eglinton where it doesn’t make sense, that that might be a good resolution,” she said. Metrolinx says it is costing it an extra $2-billion to bury the entire Eglinton line.
Mr. McCuaig said it is too early to say whether the province would shift money to the Sheppard project. Metrolinx also has yet to bill the TTC for the cost of cancelling Transit City contracts, last estimated at $65-million. Metrolinx has done preliminary engineering work for the new section that was to be tunnelled underground, although Mr. McCuaig could not say how much money has been spent.
Greg Gormick, a transit policy consultant, says it “makes perfect sense” to place light rail on the suburban stretches. “The whole thing comes down to the Mayor’s preference for buried transit, which sounds wonderful, except for the cost,” said Mr. Gormick.
Councillor Josh Matlow, whose ward includes Eglinton, called the proposal a “fiscally responsible way” to expand transit across the city. “Councillor Stintz is moving in the right direction… there’s a good possibility we can work with the Mayor to see the subway extended on Sheppard, while looking for a rapid transit option for Finch,” he said.
On Eglinton Avenue, where construction once started on a subway, only to have the hole filled in by then premier Mike Harris, the chief concern is not delaying any further.
“I have grown old since this thing has started, early in the 90s,” said Arnold Rowe, owner of Rapid Remittance Money Transfer, a business on a bleak stretch near Dufferin Road. “What I need is that the project proceeds to a completion. I’m not particularly concerned about whether it goes above ground or not. I just want it to be able to move people through that corridor because if it doesn’t, that area is going wither.”
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