City council has approved a landmark transit deal with the provincial government despite members’ reservations about the uncertainties that still surround Ontario’s transit plans.
The deal, which council endorsed after more than three hours of debate Tuesday, solidifies Queen’s Park’s control over the future of Toronto transit expansion while avoiding the provincial takeover of the existing subway network that municipal officials and most councillors were desperate to avoid.
While the deal passed easily in a 22-to-3 decision, many councillors who voted for it expressed grave concerns about what they were committing to.
“To characterize this proposal as an actual plan to build transit would be overly generous,” said Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 11, University-Rosedale) of the province’s plan.
As part of the agreement, the city will give the federal government the green light to reallocate some $3.8 billion in funding that had been earmarked for council-approved projects to provincial lines instead.
That effectively kills off the city’s advanced plans for a relief line subway and one-stop Scarborough subway extension and replaces them with the province’s Ontario Line and a three-stop Scarborough extension.
Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government had already passed legislation enabling it to take over new expansion projects in the city, but the province still requires the federal funding to advance its plans.
Staff told council the Ontario Line — the 15.5-kilometre project that would connect the Ontario Science Centre to Exhibition GO station and is the centrepiece of the province’s plan — is at about zero to 10 per cent design phase. At that stage, key details, including its precise route, station locations and projected $11-billion price tag are all subject to change.
The TTC’s chief expansion officer Gary Downie revealed to council Tuesday the city had asked the province for a detailed schedule to back up the provincial projection that the line will open by 2027, and “they openly admitted they didn’t have one.”
In addition to uncertainty around the Ontario Line, Layton lamented the province’s $5.5-billion, three-stop Scarborough subway extension won’t be built until at least 2029, three years later than the city’s $4-billion one-stop version.
But given the province’s initial push to take over the subway system, Layton said council faced a tough choice to either support the Ontario government’s “half-baked plan” or “get locked into a war with the province and see absolutely nothing get done in the next two years.”
Layton voted for the deal.
Mayor John Tory and those aligned with him gave a more forceful defence of the agreement, hailing the $28.5 billion the province intends to steer towards four GTA transit projects, which in addition to the Ontario Line and Scarborough extension include the $5.6-billion Yonge North extension to Richmond Hill and a $4.7-billion version of the Eglinton West LRT. Under the province’s plan, large sections of this LRT would be built underground and at increased costs. The projects would be mainly funded by the provincial and federal governments, at no direct cost to the city.
“What you’re looking at is the largest urban transit funding package in Canadian history,” said Councillor James Pasternak (Ward 6, York Centre).
Tory described the agreement as a “once-in-a-lifetime” deal that would deliver relief to the existing subway network sooner than the previous council-approved plans and allow the city to concentrate on finding money to maintain the existing system. He said the outcome vindicated his decision to remain in talks with the province rather than walking away as some on council had advocated.
“We’re going to get the transit built, and I think the city of Toronto will be way better off as a result of what we’ve done, especially when you go back and compare it to where we were one year ago today” when the upload was still in play, he said.
Councillor Gord Perks (Ward 4, Parkdale-High Park), one of the three councillors who voted against the deal, depicted the agreement as catastrophic because it doesn’t commit any other level of government to funding the TTC’s state-of-good-repair backlog.
The agency has estimated the bus, streetcar and subway networks will require more than $33 billion over the next 15 years for track and signal replacement, new vehicles, station upgrades and other investments required just to maintain existing service levels. About $24 billion of that is not funded, TTC CEO Rick Leary told council.
Although not having to pay for the four provincial transit lines would theoretically free up more than $5 billion in city funding to put toward the state-of-good-repair work, the city currently only has a source for about $1 billion of that amount.
Perks said it was folly to build new lines while not funding repairs to the existing system.
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“You can’t add a storey on top of a building whose foundations are crumbling,” he said.
In a joint statement after the vote, Ontario Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney and Associate Transportation Minister Kinga Surma said council’s decision “marks a pivotal moment in the history of Toronto transit.”
“After years of discussions, the City of Toronto and the Province of Ontario have endorsed one single unified plan for subway expansion in Toronto. Finally, commuters will get the transit they deserve — an integrated, modern and efficient network that expands across the region,” they said.