February 5, 2015
The Globe and Mail
Only a bit late for Groundhog Day, the biggest transit battles of Toronto’s last council term are about to pop up again.
A light rail project in the city’s northwest and subways for Scarborough will both be on the table at next week’s council meeting, according to the agenda published Thursday.
Councillor Josh Matlow put forward a series of “administrative inquiries” that demand answers from the city manager about the viability and logic of an extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line farther into Scarborough. Among them, he wants to know how much the city has budgeted for the sunk cost in return for assuming the project, a secret figure that insiders peg at close to $85-million.
The city assumed responsibility for these costs when it voted to turn the provincially funded LRT into a subway. The city has balked at the bill presented by the regional transit agency Metrolinx, insisting it should be smaller.
On Thursday afternoon, Councillor James Pasternak, a member of the city’s budget committee, opined on Twitter that Toronto could decide unilaterally how much to pay. “We don’t feel we owe that much money,” he tweeted. “Taxpayers should be protected from unreasonable claims.”
It’s a risky strategy when the provincial government, through Metrolinx, is paying for roughly half the cost of the subway and the city paying only one-third. And the issue of costs is preventing the signing of a new master agreement. The current agreement still calls for an LRT in Scarborough and it’s unclear how far the city will proceed without inking a new one.
Mr. Matlow also wants to know the operating and maintenance costs for the subway and, lobbing a political hand grenade, how much of a property tax increase would be required to cover that bill.
At the same time, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti is seeking to derail an LRT in his ward, on Finch Avenue West. His motion also asks council to “reconfirm its decision to support” building a subway “on Sheppard Avenue,” ignoring the fact that the only higher-order transit project in the works for that road is a provincially funded proposal for light rail.
These issues will seem familiar to people who watched the transit debates last term. Mr. Mammoliti has long been an opponent of that light-rail project and promised to try to kill the provincially funded proposal. And Mr. Matlow has long struggled to get answers to basic questions about the subway project in Scarborough, an area he argues would be better served by light rail.
“Will more detailed ridership forecasts be presented to Council before the City of Toronto moves any further with the subway extension project?” Mr. Matlow asked in one of his questions to staff. “Will ridership projections be factoring in the implementation of