The future of Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack plan is again in doubt, with the mayor acknowledging Wednesday the city’s tentative transit deal with the province could force a reconsideration of the stations to be built under his signature rail proposal.
A previous city report had already flagged two of SmartTrack’s planned six stations that could be undermined by the province’s plans.
Ahead of a debate about the deal at a meeting of his executive committee Wednesday, the mayor conceded some of the six proposed SmartTrack stations could “become less relevant” if the Progressive Conservatives’ transit plans go ahead.
“I would say that there’s a chance of some alteration being made to the station makeup” of SmartTrack, Tory said at a press conference.
The mayor supports the deal with the province, but it has yet to be approved by council. If council votes for it next week the city would endorse the projects that make up the Ontario government’s $28.5-billion transit plan and agree to allocate federal funding towards the lines, while Queen’s Park would abandon its push to take ownership of the existing TTC subway network.
The mayor didn’t specify which SmartTrack stations could become “less relevant.”
But a city staff assessment of provincial plans released last week determined the proposal for a three-stop Scarborough subway backed by Premier Doug Ford would “reduce the estimated usage” of the planned Lawrence East SmartTrack station.
The city had been pursuing a one-stop extension, but one of the stations that would be added under the province’s plan would be at Lawrence Avenue East, which would eat into SmartTrack ridership.
The report also said the station planned at Gerrard Street on the province’s 15.5-kilometre, $11-billion Ontario Line “may preclude the construction” of a SmartTrack station at Gerrard and Carlaw avenues.
While conceding some SmartTrack stations may not fit with the province’s plans, Tory said new stations may also “be added within the SmartTrack concept.”
He provided few specifics, but said Metrolinx, the provincial agency that oversees the GO network on which SmartTrack stations would be built, was in “discussions” about adding stations “that weren’t previously contemplated” as part of an ongoing GO expansion.
He said the new stops could be in the Toronto’s west end, but wouldn’t be on the Kitchener GO corridor, where the other planned SmartTrack stops in that half of the city would be located.
SmartTrack has shrunk significantly from the plan that formed the bedrock of Tory’s first successful mayoral campaign in 2014, when he pledged to build a 53-kilometre “surface subway” that would utilize existing GO transit lines and have 15 new stations. He said it could be done in seven years.
Since then the number of new SmartTrack stations was reduced to just six, and their completion date pushed back to at least 2024.
In April 2018, council agreed to use federal and municipal funds to pay up to $1.46 billion for the six stops, the construction of which would be overseen by Metrolinx.
But Metrolinx soon changed course and adopted a “transit-oriented development” strategy to try to enlist private sector partners to pay for new GO stops in exchange for development rights near stations.
Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins declined to say whether the agency is considering adding SmartTrack stations in the west end.
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She said Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario are in “active discussions” about constructing stations using transit-oriented development, and Metrolinx is “pleased with the positive interest from the development community so far.”
It’s been known for some time that SmartTrack stations would be on GO lines and served by GO trains.
But if the private sector rather than the city funds the additional stations the mayor referred to Wednesday, and if the stops are on different GO lines than other SmartTrack stations, it’s not clear what would differentiate them from other new GO stations Metrolinx is building in Toronto as part of its ongoing service expansion.
Coun. Gord Perks (Ward 4, Parkdale High-Park) said SmartTrack is effectively dead.
“SmartTrack is now anything that the mayor of Toronto can claim as a victory. It has nothing to do with his original plan,” he said.
Tory’s spokesperson Don Peat stressed city staff have confirmed the province is committed to delivering SmartTrack. He said the city continues “to have good discussions with Metrolinx” about the project.
The debate at the mayor’s executive Wednesday was dominated by dozens of residents from Leslieville and surrounding neighbourhoods who voiced concerns about the noise, health and construction impact the Ontario Line would have on their communities.
The project would replace city-approved plans for an underground relief line subway, and east of the Don River between roughly Eastern Avenue and Gerrard Street would be built above ground through the existing rail corridor. Residents fear that would require widening the corridor and reconstructing six rail bridges in the dense urban neighbourhood.
“This will cut like a scar across the east end of the city,” said Leslieville resident Rob Cardno, who told the committee that building the Ontario Line on an elevated structure next to Jimmie Simpson Park would render the green space practically unusable.
“We are not opposed to the rail we just want to make sure it goes underground, so our community isn’t destroyed,” he said.
After hours of deputations from the public, the committee approved a motion Tory introduced that requested Metrolinx mitigate negative impacts of the new transit projects, consult with communities, and consider building additional sections of the Ontario Line underground.