Toronto mayor warns Ford government against transit delays as report finds SmartTrack, Scarborough link in jeopardy

Toronto mayor warns Ford government against transit delays as report finds SmartTrack, Scarborough link in jeopardy

Mayor John Tory issued a warning to Premier Doug Ford’s government Wednesday not to do anything that would risk delaying Toronto’s transit plans, even as a new report suggests two major projects he’s championed are already in trouble.

The report released Wednesday by city staff recommends the next steps for a host of Toronto transit projects. It seeks council approval to advance work on new lines but comes as the future of the city’s network faces deep uncertainty thanks to the province’s proposal to take ownership of the TTC subway and alter planned projects.

Among the report’s recommendations is that council take the Eglinton East LRT off its list of projects for federal money. That would leave a crucial component of the planned Scarborough transit network backed by Tory without identified funding.

It also reveals Ford’s government has not confirmed its intention to build stations for the SmartTrack project that formed the main plank of Tory’s first successful mayoral campaign in 2014.

At a press conference at Bloor-Yonge station, Tory cast the report as evidence that the city was moving ahead with its transit priorities. He warned any interference would risk holding up new lines, and said he would have no choice but to oppose the province’s plan to “upload” the subway to Queen’s Park unless Ford’s government could provide assurances it wouldn’t cause delays.

“As the report makes clear, this is a critical moment to actually push ahead and build transit. We have arrived at that moment only because we have been doing the quiet, time-consuming and to some extent expensive planning and design work to get us to that point,” he said.

“We’re at a crossroads — the crossroads is either we keep driving forward or we hit the brakes and reverse direction again.”

The report recommends that council prioritize two projects designed to relieve pressure on the TTC’s crowded Line 1: the first phase of the Relief Line subway, and capacity improvements to Bloor-Yonge station.

The estimated cost of the Relief Line, which would connect Pape station on Line 2 to Queen and Osgoode stations downtown, has increased to $7.2 billion, from an early estimate of about $6.8 billion. The station work at Bloor-Yonge, which would include adding a second platform to serve Line 2, would cost an estimated $1 billion.

The report recommends that out of roughly $5 billion in available federal funding, council request $3.2 billion for the Relief Line and $500 million for Bloor-Yonge.

City staff say the two projects are urgently required because Line 1 is projected to reach capacity by 2026.

“After that point, the continued increase in ridership demand will introduce serious risks to the continued safe, reliable, and effective ability of Line 1 to serve transit customers,” the report states.

However, the provincial government has signalled its intention to use “alternate” technology to build the Relief Line, putting the city’s version of the project in doubt.

The province has not yet detailed what the new technology would be or how quickly its version of the line could be completed.

At Queen’s Park on Wednesday, Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek said he “will have more to say about our plans for the network very soon,” suggesting there will be transit expansion news in the April 11 budget.

But Yurek said negotiations are still ongoing over how much the city would have to pay toward what could eventually be a $30-billion plan.

“I believe the city can do or say as they wish — that’s their right, but talks … are going quite positive and they’ll continue to go forward. Mayor Tory has been a great partner. We’re going to build this new partnership to build subways in the city of Toronto,” he said.

The city report confirms previous statements by TTC staff that the estimated cost for the one-stop Scarborough subway extension has risen to $3.9 billion, exceeding the available funding envelope of $3.5 billion.

Under a plan Tory supported in 2016, that $3.5 billion was supposed to be enough to fund both the subway extension and the Eglinton East LRT, which would run from Kennedy station to the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus. Tory pitched the two lines to council as a compromise after estimated costs for the original three-stop subway plan grew too expensive.

Although the Eglinton East LRT has never been fully funded, in 2016 council voted to use federal money to pay for a portion of the line, which was estimated at the time to cost about $1.6 billion. The city planned to find additional funding for it in the future.

However, the new report recommends removing the LRT from the list of projects slated for federal money. Instead it recommends the city work with Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency, to develop a plan for the line.

That could indefinitely defer the LRT and reduce Tory’s planned Scarborough network to a single-stop subway extension. The report recommends pursuing that $3.9-billion option and moving ahead with procurement for the project.

However, the Ontario Progressive Conservative government has signalled it wants to take over the subway extension and revert to a three-stop version as part of the upload.

The report states that council moving forward with constructing the extension should be contingent on the province providing written support for the one-stop plan and confirming its $1.9-billion funding commitment for the plan by May 15.

The report also warns of possible delays to the one-stop extension, which is supposed to replace the aging Scarborough RT. It’s expected to reach the end of its service life by about 2026.

In March 2017, staff thought the one-stop subway could be done as early as the second quarter of 2026.

After further design work, staff now believe the earliest the subway could be running is the fourth quarter of 2026. The large bus terminal planned at the new Scarborough Centre station wouldn’t be fully complete until the fourth quarter of 2029. But accounting for the risk the project falls behind, staff say those timelines could slip by at least a year, putting the subway opening in the fourth quarter of 2027 and full completion in the second quarter of 2030.

With the TTC currently working to extend the life of the Scarborough RT by 10 years — which is not guaranteed — the new timelines leave no wiggle room between the time the Scarborough RT would likely no longer be functional and the subway opening, leaving a real possibility Scarborough residents will be left taking the bus for an unknown period of time.

It’s not clear when a three-stop version of the plan could be completed if the province changes course on the project.

“If I were someone in Scarborough, I’d be shaking my head in disbelief as the province and the city fail to get their act together to deliver transit in Scarborough,” said Councillor Gord Perks (Ward 4, Parkdale-High Park).

Tory appeared to have scored an important victory for his transit vision last April when council agreed to spend about $1.5 billion on up to six stations on GO Transit lines for his SmartTrack plan, but the future of that plan now also appears in doubt.

The report states the stations are ready to be procured by Metrolinx, but while the city has asked the province to confirm its commitment to SmartTrack, “the province has not yet responded.”

Last year, Metrolinx decided not to move ahead with the traditional approach of directly funding new stations on GO lines, opting instead for a “market-driven” strategy that would see developers pick up the cost of building stops in exchange for development rights or public land near transit lines. As a result, the agency is removing SmartTrack stops from the procurement process.

According to the report, the city is in discussions with Metrolinx about finding developers to build SmartTrack stops.

Tory said Wednesday he was confident the province would follow through on building his signature transit project.

“I have been assured repeatedly that there is no big objection … that we’re going to have SmartTrack stations initiated by me and by the city council of Toronto in the city of Toronto that are going to help people move better on GO lines and that will be done even before the Scarborough subway,” he said.

Asked Wednesday if he would stick with the SmartTrack station program, Yurek said: “I’ve had numerous conversations with Mayor Tory and I’ve committed my support to the SmartTrack.”

With files from Jennifer Pagliaro and David Rider.

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