February 10, 2015
The Globe and Mail
An attempt to get more information about the controversial subway proposal for Scarborough was quickly squelched at Toronto city council Tuesday.
Councillor Josh Matlow had put forward a series of “administrative inquiries” asking about costs, ridership projections and other key issues. Some of the answers he got from staff fell short, he argued, and he sought to have the questions referred for further debate.
One by one, his motions fell.
The one that came closest to passing related to his question seeking to learn more about how much it would cost to run the subway extension. This failed on a 21-21 tie, with some members of Mayor John Tory’s inner circle voting in favour of further debate. On the subsequent votes, three of them switched and began backing the mayor’s position against the motions.
After the motions failed, council voted to receive the report, effectively shelving it.
Mr. Matlow’s push came near the start of a council meeting in which Mr. Tory’ signature transit project SmartTrack is expected to feature prominently. The meeting is also going to include a attempt by Etobicoke councillor Giorgio Mammoliti to kill a light-rail proposal on Finch West.
The mayor said that the “surface subway” proposal on which he ran for office would be his key item, meaning it should be debated relatively early.
“We continue to move the SmartTrack file forward,” Mr. Tory told council.
On Tuesday councillors will be asked to approve $1.65-million in funding for studies related to Mr. Tory’s transit proposal.
This extra funding request comes as councillors have to digest that cancelling the original LRT in Scarborough will cost the city $75-million. Sources said that the regional transit agency Metrolinx — which had been seeking $85-million in sunk costs — was willing to revise down its initial figure, but only to a point. The final price-tag is still higher than the city had been hoping for.
It also comes on the heels of revelations that the city has dramatically expanded the area in Scarborough it is considering for a possible subway route. City planners are now studying nine potential transit corridors, some much longer and likely to be more expensive than others.
This raises the prospect that a pricier option could gain traction, with the city on the hook for the additional cost.
Asked specifically Monday whether he saw the 2013 budget of about $3-billion as a hard cap and would accept no proposal that was costlier, Mr. Tory said it was too early to say.
“I’m not going to prejudge anything now because, as you pointed out, the environmental assessment and the study that’s going on now is a study that has a broader area than first contemplated, because of various changes including the advent of SmartTrack,” he said.
“Those results will come back and we’ll have the discussion when they come back. But at the present time what I’m committed to is the present plan for the Scarborough subway. I believe it is the right thing to do. It should proceed. It has been endorsed in three different elections by the people and I think it’s time to get on with it.”
A provincially funded light rail proposal in Scarborough was replaced by a subway extension through a 24-20 vote in 2013. But although proponents say that this has settled the matter, disputes over the project keep rearing their head.
The city’s planning work on Scarborough is expected to determine a suitable corridor and station placement this year. An accelerated environmental assessment would be done next year and trains are scheduled to being running in 2023.
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