January 28th 2014
The Globe and Mail
In a bid to derail the controversial Scarborough subway extension, a councillor is pushing to defer funding until there is more information about the project’s full costs.
Josh Matlow will introduce a motion this week as city council considers a budget that includes $14.5-million and a 0.5-per-cent property tax increase for the extension.
“This is not the year that we should be hiking our debt and residents’ taxes to pay for a subway extension that, frankly, we know very little about,” Mr. Matlow said on Monday.
The midtown councillor has long opposed extending the subway in Scarborough, saying that the original and fully funded plan for light rail in the area would serve residents better. He fears that the city is taking on unknown risks, including the cost of cancelling vehicle purchases and responsibility for cost overruns.
The money in the city budget is Toronto’s first real financial commitment to the project, and the TTC said that it will pay for preliminary work, including starting the environmental assessment. This work cannot be covered by the TTC’s regular budget, according to Anna Pace, head of strategic partnerships. In an e-mail via a spokesman, she said: “The project would not proceed until funding is made available.”
Rapid transit in Scarborough was one of the city’s hottest political potatoes last year. Amid a chorus from some councillors to change plans from an LRT, the regional transit agency Metrolinx announced it would stop work, seeking clarity from the city. And then, during a provincial by-election campaign in Scarborough, the Liberal provincial government agreed to a subway extension there.
That decision remains hotly debated.
Scarborough-area politicians tend to favour the subway as an investment in the future and a way to show the suburb it is a valued part of the city. Urban experts counter that an LRT would serve more people and that only at the very top of the subway’s projected ridership – which is pegged to peak between 9,500 and 14,000 people per hour in 2031 – would it come close to the numbers that warrant the more expensive option.
Mayoral candidate David Soknacki has pledged to revert to the LRT plan, while Mayor Rob Ford and TTC Chair Karen Stintz, who has said she intends to run, insist a subway is best for the area.
Ms. Stintz said Tuesday she’s opposed to a motion brought forward by Mr. Matlow to delay the Scarborough subway and the tax levy . “I think we’ve had that debate enough,” she said. “Council has made a decision. It’s being funded by the province. It’s being funded by the federal government. Now is the time that Torontonians want us to begin construction, not continue debating.”
Similar divisions are seen on council, where politicians voted narrowly last year to change from the LRT to a subway plan. Mr. Matlow hopes that enough of them will be swayed by the thought of the unknown costs to put off funding. And he believes Mr. Ford’s diminished stature may leave some councillors more willing to go against his desires.
“To start throwing money into the three-stop subway, without knowing some basic facts, I think is just really irresponsible, especially at a time where we’re facing enormous budget pressure,” he said.
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