February 5, 2012
For too many years, the question of how to improve and expand Toronto’s transit system has shamefully been used as a political football. One government sets out a plan, the next scraps it, and then the next commissions yet another report.
I believe Torontonians are relying on us to move now, and without delay, on a realistic transit plan that will benefit this generation and beyond.
Much of the recent public debate has been about putting LRTs and subways underground versus at-grade. I believe this is a false debate, as the preferred choice should always be what makes sense depending on where the line is planned for and what funds are available.
The original Metrolinx plan, funded by the provincial government, called for LRT lines on Finch, Sheppard and an Eglinton Crosstown line to be tunneled underground between Black Creek to just east of Laird. Soon after taking office, Mayor Ford unilaterally announced (and without the approval of council), that the entirety of the Eglinton LRT line would go underground. The Mayor also proposed to construct a $4.7 billion subway on Sheppard Ave using wholly private financing and supported a non-binding with the Province and Metrolinx.
If the entirety of the Eglinton line was built underground, even along low-density suburban areas towards Scarborough as the Mayor would like, the additional cost would be almost $2 billion (coming from our allocated envelope of $8.2 billion). To unnecessarily bury this portion of the line, Toronto would have to reallocate funds away from the proposed Finch West and Sheppard East LRTs, as the City would no longer have the capital dollars to construct those rapid transit lines.
Recently, a report commissioned by the Mayor, and authored by his transit advisor Mr. Gordon Chong, mused about various private financing schemes and potential public revenue sources to build a Sheppard subway but provided no clear or reliable details as to what this would ultimately be. In other words, the Chong report was not a plan, it was a strategy to create a plan with several variables that may or may not be realistic. There are other reports, such as this one by the Pembina Institute, that I’ve found to offer convincing arguments.
It was evidence, rather than false promises and rhetoric, that convinced me of the path we must take.
We simply can no longer afford to spend time or money trying to build transit with possible and hopeful funding sources that may or may not materialize- we must begin moving forward within the envelope of funds we’ve been allocated. In addition, without ensuring the revenue needed for the ongoing operating costs can be sourced, I’m concerned that constructing subways through suburban areas with low densities will become a long-term liability for taxpayers. The current stretch of the Sheppard subway is already subsidised by our property taxes due to low ridership. We can extend it into Scarborough now with dedicated light rail and serve thousands more people.
I applaud the provincial government’s commitment to fund rapid transit expansion for our city and am delighted that work will begin on the midtown underground portion of the Eglinton line this year- something we’ve been waiting for far too long.
In addition, when funding is made available in the coming years, I believe our next transit priorities should include, but not be limited to, finally connecting the Yonge and University lines at Sheppard (as Councillors Pasternak and Augimeri have advocated for), a Downtown Relief Line constructed to take the pressure off of the over-crowded Yonge subway line (try getting on this line during rush hour today) and extending the Eglinton Crosstown to Pearson airport. All new transit projects should be designed as part of a regional transit strategy.
I am very proud to support our TTC Chair, Karen Stintz, who has had the courage to champion what in my honest opinion is the best transit plan for Toronto. We’ve worked together, along with many of our council colleagues, to keep Toronto on course with a realistic and fiscally responsible plan that will confirm our commitment to the 2009 Memorandum of Agreement between the City of Toronto and Metrolinx.
This plan, if approved by Council, will see Eglinton constructed underground through midtown between Black Creek to east of Laird, continue east at-grade to Scarborough, and allocate the remaining Metrolinx funds towards supporting the underserved residents along Sheppard, Finch West and Scarborough with much-needed light rapid transit. This plan will also better reflect our urban planning goals for these arterial roads and their nearby neighbourhoods.
In the coming days, some detractors will say that our plan is simply “against the mayor”. It is not. It’s actually not about the mayor- it’s about Toronto.
Others will say that this will lead to a “St. Clair-like” plan on Eglinton. This is not true either as the line will be underground through midtown Toronto along the most narrow and congested portion of the road, go at-grade through low- density areas towards Scarborough and Eglinton, east of Leslie, is wider that St. Clair and can accommodate an additional dedicated lane. Also- we’ll have modern Light Rapid Transit, used by cities around the world including throughout North America, not the traditional one-car streetcars we currently see today.
Ultimately, I hear Torontonians telling City Hall and Queen’s Park that they want us to move forward with a plan that can be built without another delay and connect our city while respecting every tax dollar we’ve been entrusted with.
Let’s move forward now with a realistic plan that will provide our city with rapid and accessible transit, curb gridlock and finally get Toronto moving again.
Toronto City Councillor
Ward 22 – St. Paul’s