September 6th, 2013
If Glen Murray wants to build his modified subway in Scarborough it looks like he’s going to have to get it through council first.
In a surprise announcement on Wednesday, the provincial transportation minister declared that the Ontario government would move ahead with a plan to extend the Bloor-Danforth subway to the Scarborough Town Centre. The proposed line would differ from one approved by council in July, because it would be shorter, follow a different route and wouldn’t go all the way to Sheppard Ave.
In an interview Friday, Murray argued that because the $1.4-billion extension would be entirely paid for by the province and would follow the route of the LRT council originally approved last February, it doesn’t require further consent from councillors.
“This isn’t a new plan. This is the same plan on the same route,” he said. “It’s been going back and forth between an LRT and a subway for years. We’ve said now, this is enough… We’re building the subway.”
“I’m always open to council having more of a discussion about it,” he added, “but that’s up to council. I don’t think it’s a requirement because we’re not looking for any money from city council this time.”
But according to City of Toronto spokesperson Jackie DeSouza, the project can’t go ahead without a green light from councillors.
“From speaking to the city manager, council would still need to confirm details like the route, the construction responsibilities, the financing,” said DeSouza.
Council would also have to authorize changes to the transit master agreement between the city, the TTC, and provincial government, DeSouza said. In that document, the city and province agreed to build an LRT in Scarborough. In July councillors authorized city manager Joe Pennachetti to renegotiate it for a subway instead, but that process was never finished and the light rail agreement remains in effect.
“We have an agreement with Metrolinx that right now still says that we agree on an LRT,” said DeSouza. “So that agreement would need to be changed, and for the agreement to be changed there would need to be council direction and approval.”
Anne Marie Aikins, a spokesperson for Metrolinx, also says the design Murray favours would need council assent. On top of any legal requirements around altering the master contract, Aikins stressed that the province’s transit agency wouldn’t want to pursue any project without the explicit agreement of city government.
“We want our municipalities onside. We don’t want to go ahead with plans they really aren’t happy with,” she said.
A council vote on this latest iteration of rapid transit for Scarborough could come as early as October, when Pennachetti intends to bring forward a report as a follow-up to July’s subway vote. If so, it would mark the third time this term that council has voted for a supposedly final decision on Scarborough rail lines.
Although councillors approved the longer subway to Sheppard by a comfortable 28-16 margin in July, how a vote next month would break down is not clear. Mayor Rob Ford has already signalled he is behind Murray’s plan, and is claiming responsibility for finally delivering a subway to residents of the eastern suburb.
TTC chair Karen Stintz has expressed serious concerns however.
Councillor Stintz did not return a request for comment Friday. But Thursday on CBC’s Metro Morning she suggested Murray’s plan was inferior to the subway council backed in July in part because it would be built along the current route of the Scarborough RT, necessitating moving passengers by shuttle bus for at least three years during construction.
“When council approved spending additional money for the extension of the Bloor-Danforth line to Sheppard, we did so because we felt that the extra money was worth it,” Stintz explained, “because we would keep the SRT in service and we would have the Bloor-Danforth line extended to Sheppard. The minister’s plan does neither.”
On Friday, Stintz sent a letter to Metrolinx seeking clarification on whether council’s approval of the longer subway was still being considered and if the agency is behind Murray’s plan.
Josh Matlow, councillor for Ward 22 St. Paul’s, opposes both subway options. He hopes that when it comes time to decide council will revert to its original position on LRT, but he says the outcome is hard to predict.
“I think the votes are going to be all over the place,” he said. “Because there are going to be some councillors who are going to go for it because they want to simply put on their campaign literature that they got a subway. There are going to be other councillors that wanted a subway but not this subway. And there are going to be other councillors like myself who…will vote against either plan.”
With confusion seemingly the only constant in Toronto’s transit planning, Matlow despairs that it could take a wholesale change in leadership for anything to be built in Scarborough.
“I think we need different people at the table,” he said. “I don’t believe that Minister Murray, Mayor Ford, and Councillor Stintz have been the right people to negotiate this plan.”
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