You would be forgiven for thinking that as Toronto’s first “transit czar,” Derrick Toigo is a ruler without a kingdom.
The executive director of the city’s new transit expansion office, Toigo is tasked with providing end-to-end oversight of Toronto transit projects and finding ways to speed them up.
He took the job at a time when the city’s ability to oversee the construction of new lines appears at a low point.
The city quietly announced Toigo’s appointment on April 18 in an internal memo, just eight days after Premier Doug Ford effectively blew up Toronto’s council-approved transit expansion plans by announcing his own designs to expand the GTHA rail network. In June, the Ontario Progressive Conservative government passed legislation to take control of new transit projects from the city and TTC, and it intends to introduce a law as early as next year that would wrest ownership of the existing subway network from Toronto.
But in his first interview since taking the job, Toigo, 53, rejected the idea the province has pushed the city out of transit planning, insisting the municipal government still has a role to play.
“I don’t think we’ve lost control of this,” he told the Star last Wednesday, arguing that even with Queen’s Park in the driver’s seat the province will still need the city’s co-operation to get anything built.
“They’re going to put a hole in the middle of the fabric of the city,” he said. On a practical level that work “does need to have the city involved fairly significantly.”
When Mayor John Tory announced plans to create the transit expansion office last November, he described the director’s role as one of breaking down silos within city government to ensure projects get built faster. Asked if he’s identified ways to speed things up, Toigo said three months after his appointment his focus is still on building up a team in his office.
The city has said his department will have a budget of about $2 million, while he will earn a salary of between $196,596 and $221,166.
An engineer by training, Toigo spent 13 years at Infrastructure Ontario where he helped manage the redevelopment of the William Osler Health System in Brampton and Etobicoke and LRT projects in Ottawa, Waterloo and on Toronto’s Eglinton Ave. He said a common frustration from his time at the provincial agency was the “multiple voices” that had to be consulted at the city level before anything got done.
In his new role he plans to make construction more efficient by serving as the single point of contact at city hall for the various entities involved in building new lines. That includes the TTC, the Ministry of Transportation, Infrastructure Ontario and Metrolinx, the province’s agency responsible for transportation in the GTHA.
Toigo is also among city officials responsible for evaluating the province’s new transit plans, which include replacing the city’s proposed relief line subway with a longer partially above-ground service called the Ontario Line, and swapping the proposed one-stop Scarborough subway extension for a more expensive three-stop version.
Staff are expected to present their analysis of the province’s proposals to the mayor’s executive committee in September, with a council vote on their recommendations expected in October.
Toigo declined to reveal what he thinks of the province’s plans so far, noting that he and other city and TTC staff are still working on the assessment.
While he described the two levels of government as having a “professional” relationship and working together “collaboratively,” he said the province has yet to provide the city with enough information to make an informed analysis of the Ontario Line and other projects set to replace council-approved plans that underwent years of study.
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Toigo said his office is pushing the province to provide more details, but he couldn’t guarantee staff will have enough documentation to provide a full analysis to council this fall.
“We’ll be able to provide some level of information and feedback to council. I’m not sure what level at this point in time,” he said.
According to Toigo, the city wants details about how the province arrived at its budget and schedule for the 15.5-kilometre Ontario Line. According to an initial business case Metrolinx released last week, construction can start on the line by 2022 and it could open by 2027 at a cost of up to $11.4 billion. The completion date is at least two years sooner than the relief line, which would be half as long. Toigo said he’s hoping the province will do more than “rhyming off dates” and provide supporting evidence its timeline is realistic.
Toigo said the city has “significant” concerns about how the province intends to build the central section of the Ontario Line, which would deviate from the planned path of the relief line and run above ground on an elevated structure over the Don River and through the Lakeshore East GO corridor.
The segment would require building an elevated rail line through a part of the city expected to undergo major infrastructure projects in the coming years with the realignment of the Gardiner Expressway and the Port Lands Flood Protection initiative.
Toigo said the province didn’t consult the city about how the Ontario Line could be constructed in coordination with those projects, and the government needs to do “a lot of work” to explain how building the line through that part of town “will actually work without it impacting some of the projects we have that are necessary for us to kind of keep the city moving.”
Toigo said the province is often forthcoming in responding to the city’s requests for information. But in some cases it’s difficult to tell whether the government is keeping some details from municipal officials, or if it merely has not yet done the extensive background work required to support its plans, which remain in early design stages.
“I can’t tell you whether they’re withholding information. I don’t know. I would hope not,” he said.
“On the one side there’s a lot of work that needs to be done by the province and they’re working diligently to do it, and on the other side we’re asking for information on budgets and schedules and we just haven’t seen it yet.”
In a statement, Metrolinx said the agency has held “well over 40 meetings” with city and TTC officials in recent months, “all in the spirit of collaboration.”
“We have been, and will continue to, work co-operatively and productively with the city to design and build a modern, integrated transit system that will connect more people to more communities, places and key destinations. This includes providing information the city needs to develop a report to council,” Metrolinx president and CEO Phil Verster said.
Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr