Panel recommends LRT along Sheppard, mayor disagrees
Published Friday, March 16, 2012 11:32PM EDT
An expert panel tasked with considering Toronto's transit future has backed the construction of an above-ground light-rail line along Sheppard Avenue East.
Toronto City Hall released the panel's report on Friday, which asks city council to support light-rail transit (LRT) construction along 13 kilometres of Sheppard Avenue, from Don Mills Road to Morningside Avenue. The new line would cost $1 billion, it says.
"Having completed our detailed evaluation of options, the Panel concluded that Light Rail Transit (LRT) is the recommended mode of transit for Sheppard Avenue East," the panel wrote in its report.
In a press conference at noon on Friday, panelist Prof. Eric Miller said the group couldn't see how it would be possible to build a subway with the money available.
"There is, in fact, not enough commitment at this time and possibly going forward to fund the subway," said Miller, the director of the Cities Centre at the University of Toronto.
The panel goes on to recommend council ask the province to move forward with Toronto's completed transit plan.
Toronto council established the expert panel on Feb. 8 to assess the option for rapid transit along the Sheppard Avenue East corridor.
The panel includes representatives from TTC, Metrolinx, Toronto Civic Action Alliance and the Toronto Environmental Alliance, as well as Coun. Gordon Chong and former mayor David Crombie.
The findings noted a "strong consensus" among board members, with the exception of Chong, Ford's representative on the panel.
In its report, the panel said that they reviewed extensive documents, presentations and held "thorough discussions" exploring all potential options.
The panel was tasked with finding "the most effective means of delivering rapid transit to the greatest number of riders with the funds currently allocated."
The province has committed $8.4 billion toward Toronto's transit expansion, and is waiting for council to approve a complete transit strategy before distributing the money.
The first part of Toronto's transit plan was approved last month, including the construction of an Eglinton Avenue light-rail line running mostly above ground.
Council also approved a light-rail line along Finch Avenue West from the Spadina subway station to Humber College, and replacing the current Scarborough RT line with rapid light-rail transit.
Mayor Rob Ford has continued pushing for subways to be at the centre of the city's transit strategy plan and has been campaigning for a Sheppard subway line expansion.
On Thursday, Ford appeared at a press conference held by the pro-subway organization SAFE, which stands for Subways are for Everyone.
During the appearance, Ford dismissed the report before it was publicly released.
"The advisory panel is a biased panel, we all know what they are going to say," Ford told reporters, calling the panel's findings "hogwash."
Ford took the 85 Sheppard East bus to the event. Followed by staffers and several reporters, Ford shook hands, gave out business cards and posed for a picture with a group of teen boys from Stonebridge Public School.
Ford, who told reporters he takes transit "a few times a year," said it was time to stop talking and start building. The $1 billion in funding from the province is enough to build two or three subway stations, at an estimated cost of $400 million each, he said.
"With any project you have to go one brick at a time," Ford said, while waiting for the 85 bus. "We're going to have to build many stations, just like Younge and Bloor were built, one station at a time. Once you start building it, obviously people invest and the money will come."
By the time the money runs out, there may be new governments, and new funding, at the provincial and federal levels, he said.
Later, when Ford got to the Subways are for Everyone Rally, he shared his bus-riding experience with supporters.
"I took the bus out here today," Ford said. "Not one person came up to me and said they want streetcars."