Doug Ford vows 3-stop Scarborough subway. The timeline could leave riders on buses for years

Doug Ford vows 3-stop Scarborough subway. The timeline could leave riders on buses for years

With the province vowing to again shift plans for transit in Scarborough, Premier Doug Ford could not commit to a subway being built before the Scarborough RT is no longer operational — what would leave thousands of commuters on buses for years.

On Wednesday morning, Premier Doug Ford announced the province is pushing ahead with four priority projects, including a three-stop Scarborough subway extension — returning to the plan championed by his late brother and former Toronto mayor Rob Ford in 2013 until his death.

“This is close to my heart and this one is very close to my brother Rob. And both of us have been the champions of transit in Scarborough right from our time at city hall,” Ford said Wednesday, remembering his brother’s call for “subways, subways, subways.”

“This one is for you, Rob.”

But delays will be likely for those who have long waited for new rapid transit in Scarborough, with the province only committing to completion between 2029 and 2030.

City staff reported earlier this month a one-stop subway — which has been advanced by council and supported by Mayor John Tory over the last three years — could be running as soon as the fourth quarter of 2026 if all goes to plan.

Without the SRT, Scarborough commuters would all have to be bused to Kennedy station or elsewhere.

The province’s plan also duplicates new GO stations Tory has promised after his 2014 campaign pitch of a “SmartTrack” line was significantly reduced, further putting that promise in question.

A three-stop subway would cost $5.5 billion, the province estimated. It’s unclear how they arrived at that estimate. The province has vowed to pay the $1.6 billion increase from the city’s existing one-stop subway plan.

City staff have been planning a less expensive one-stop subway extension — a 6.2-kilometre tunnel from the existing Kennedy station to the Scarborough Town Centre and aligned along McCowan Ave. That subway has been advanced by city staff to between 50 to 60 per cent design — well beyond the 30 per cent design level that staff say is needed to move ahead with a bid process and construction.

The province’s plan, which is based on the previous concept approved by council in 2013, would reintroduce a stop at Lawrence Ave. and tunnel an additional 1.4 kilometres from the Town Centre area to Sheppard Ave., where the terminus would be. The alignment is also along McCowan Ave.

A three-stop subway, abandoned by council in July 2016, was at less than 5 per cent design when work was stopped on that version.

On Tuesday, Tory’s executive committee approved staff recommendations on the city’s transit plan that said Toronto should move forward with construction on the one-stop plan, subject to the province confirming its support, including earlier funding commitments, in writing.

Should that confirmation not be given by mid-May — as now appears certain — staff said they would need still need to assess the three-stop subway’s cost, schedule and operational impacts on the existing TTC network. The province now says it wants to upload responsibility for this extension.

In July 2016, council was told by city staff that a three-stop subway would cost an estimated $4.6 billion. That was based on very little design work. Staff said at the time those estimates could be off by as much as minus 30 per cent to plus 50 per cent — meaning the estimate at that point could have been as high as $6.9 billion.

In 2016, council agreed to move forward with a one-stop plan championed by Tory and then chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat. The one-stop version is now estimated to cost $3.9 billion based on the more certain design, which is fully funded by three levels of government. Staff stopped doing any planning on the three-stop concept in 2016.

The three-stop subway duplicates stations proposed as part of Tory’s SmartTrack promise, which planners earlier said would cannibalize riders from the subway and which was one of the reasons the subway was reduced from three stops to one. Two of the six SmartTrack stops are planned for Lawrence Ave. at Kennedy Rd. and Finch Ave. at Kennedy.

Tory’s SmartTrack plan is already in limbo with Ford’s government yet to respond to city staff requests about moving forward with actually building any of the six stations proposed within Toronto as part of the province’s GO expansion plans.

The Ford brothers backed a three-stop subway in 2013 to replace the SRT. The proposal saw council cancel a seven-stop LRT from Kennedy station to Sheppard Ave., running in the SRT’s corridor, that would have been fully funded by the province.

That LRT was last estimated to cost around $2 billion. Reintroducing the LRT would involve redesign of connections at Kennedy station at unknown costs.

Council has never seen a value-for-money comparison of the subway and the LRT. But a secret draft report produced by officials at the province’s transit agency Metrolinx in September 2013, and earlier obtained by the Star, concluded a three-stop subway was “not a worthwhile use of money” compared to an LRT.

The seven-stop LRT, had it not been cancelled, was scheduled to be completed this year. It was believed construction would take three and a half to five years. Because it would run in the SRT corridor, buses would need to replace service during part of the construction.

Both the city and the provincial subway plans leave no funding for a separate multi-stop LRT extension of the Crosstown line currently under construction, east from Kennedy station along Eglinton Ave. to Kingston Rd. and north on Morningside Ave. to the University of Toronto Scarborough campus. That line was promised by Tory and has been endorsed by council despite the cost assumptions they made not being verified.

That LRT would cost an estimated $1.6 billion, based on preliminary design, and was thought to take four years to construct.

Combined the LRT lines, forming an LRT network in Scarborough, would cost at least $3.6 billion, not including additional costs at Kennedy station — significantly less than the estimated three-stop subway plan.

“Scarborough residents really lose out with another change in plans,” said Councillor Josh Matlow (Ward 12 Toronto—St. Paul’s), who has pushed for the LRT network plan at council. “Not only would, for at least a billion dollars less, a 24-LRT station network be built to connect more people, provide more service for far fewer dollars, but it could be built much faster than a three-stop subway.”

He referenced the possibility residents in Scarborough will be left on the bus for years to come with the subway plan if it moves ahead.

“I’m really concerned that Doug Ford is going to leave Scarborough residents with absolutely nothing for a really long time.”

With files from Ben Spurr

Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags

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