$55-billion Toronto transit plan sets stage for political battle
Proposal pits mayor against province over light-rail line
From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
September 3, 2008 at 3:39 AM EDT
A confidential draft plan for combatting commuter congestion in the Toronto region calls for spending $55-billion over 25 years on a network of new subway and light-rail lines, improved commuter rail, express bus routes and longer and wider roads.
The blueprint, drawn up by Metrolinx, the provincial transportation agency, also promises to set up a political fight between Mayor David Miller - who sits on the agency's board - and the province. The Metrolinx plan runs against the mayor's signature Transit City light-rail plan by calling for what the TTC has warned would be a prohibitively expensive subway-like transit line on Eglinton Avenue.
The Metrolinx plan, a copy of which was viewed by The Globe and Mail, is being presented to board members and provincial officials, including Premier Dalton McGuinty, this week.
It is more modest than other scenarios contemplated by Metrolinx, including one concept that would have cost $90-billion. The plan says it would cost $2.2-billion a year over 25 years, with most of the spending in the first 15 years. Many of the new transit lines it includes have been proposed, in one form or another, before, or were included in the province's $17.5-billion MoveOntario 2020 plan. The highlights are:
* Express GO Transit rail service from downtown Toronto to Hamilton, Oshawa, Brampton, Richmond Hill and Mississauga, running every 15 minutes, all day, in both directions;
* Express rail service every 15 minutes to Pearson Airport from Union Station;
* A subway or subway-like "Metro" line along Eglinton Avenue;
* A "Downtown Core" east-west subway line;
* Thousands of kilometres of longer and wider roads, including the extension of Highway 407 east to Clarington, as well as extensions to the 404, 427 and 410;
* Local rapid-transit bus or light-rail services along major routes in Hamilton, Halton, Peel, York and Durham Regions;
* $500-million for "active transportation," such as bike lanes;
* Northward extensions of TTC light-rail lines planned for Jane Street and Don Mills north to Highway 7 in York Region;
* GO Transit commuter rail service expansions or improvements including routes to Niagara, Kitchener-Waterloo, Bowmanville and Aurora.
Metrolinx's 11-member board, made up mostly of Greater Toronto Area municipal politicians, with four seats from the city of Toronto, will debate the draft plan at a retreat this weekend in King City. Premier Dalton McGuinty is also scheduled to have a briefing on the plan this week, one source familiar with the plan said. A final-draft version, which may include modifications to the current plan, is to be presented this month for public consultations.
Other potentially controversial policies under consideration by Metrolinx - such as road tolls for the 400-series highways or new taxes on parking spots or gasoline - are to be presented in a separate financial plan.
For now, the revisions to the TTC's Transit City plan will likely generate the most political heat, as public meetings on the mayor's proposed light-rail lines, including a partly tunnelled line on Eglinton, are already going ahead.
While the Premier previously appeared to endorse the city's light-rail agenda, which is now expected to cost about $10-billion, Metrolinx is supposed to fine-tune the region's transportation plan and set priorities for provincial funding. Mr. Miller campaigned on the plan to run new, more modern streetcars along a partly tunnelled route on Eglinton, so scrapping that for a subway would put Toronto's mayor and Metrolinx on a collision course.
Adam Giambrone, the city councillor who chairs the TTC and also sits on the Metrolinx board, said yesterday he had not seen a copy of the plan. But he reiterated the TTC's objection to a subway along Eglinton, which he said is not warranted given the projected ridership numbers and would cost as much as $10-billion compared with a light-rail line with an estimated $2.2-billion price tag.
He warned it would also take much longer to build, meaning it might not happen at all - the fate met by the last subway planned for Eglinton, upon which construction had already begun before it was cancelled in 1995 by the newly elected provincial Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris.
"I think we have said very clearly that we are not going to build a Metro or a subway on Eglinton," Mr. Giambrone said.
Metrolinx chairman Rob MacIsaac has argued previously that Eglinton is busy enough to warrant more than just a light-rail line.