Toronto mayor says provincial changes could 'risk delaying already overdue transit'
Chris Fox, CTV News Toronto
Published Wednesday, March 27, 2019 10:54AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, March 27, 2019 7:45PM EDT
Mayor John Tory says that he is committed to continuing discussions with the province around a potential upload of the subway system, despite concerns he now has over the potential for delays to already-approved projects that the Ford government is interested in altering.
Tory made the comment to reporters on Wednesday morning following the release of a letter from Deputy Minister of Transportation Shelley Tapp and the province’s special advisor on the subway upload Michael Lindsay that outlined desired changes to four priority projects.
The letter proposes expanding the Scarborough subway extension from one stop to three stops, building a significant portion of the Eglinton West LRT below ground rather than above ground and building the relief line using unspecified “alternate technology.” The letter also expressed a desire for the planning and design work on the Yonge subway extension to be completed “in parallel” with the work on the relief line so the project can be fast-tracked.
Speaking with reporters prior to a meeting of city council on Wednesday, Tory said he is concerned that the proposed changes “risk delaying the already overdue transit that is required in this city” but does not believe walking away from ongoing discussions with the province would be appropriate at this time.
“We absolutely must sit down with each other and resolve and discuss our differences and in the end find a way to get transit built without delay,” he said. “We know that (the negotiation table) is the only place where we can stand up for Toronto and protect our transit system and I think it is the only place we can go where we can insist that the province show us project by project step, by step how the changes that are proposed do not result in delays. We can’t afford to have delay in these transit projects that were all without exception moving forward.”
Some members of city council have called for the city to fight back against the potential upload of the subway system in the wake of the proposed changes to major projects being made public but Tory said that the “notion that we are going to walk away from the table and instead spend our time having protests at Queen’s Park” won’t do anything to address the issues in a way that would be beneficial to the city.
He said that he has made clear to his provincial counterparts that if “we can’t get some sort of arrangement that is satisfactory to the people of Toronto, the employees (of the TTC) and the riders” he will oppose it.
At the same time, he said that he believes the process that has been established to consider a potential subway upload is working “complicated, difficult and sometimes frustrating as it may be.”
“I don’t think the letter was helpful in terms of the tone of some of the words of it but I will say that the letter does not replace a process where we are sitting at the table together having discussions that thus far have been constructive,” he said.
Questions remain unanswered
During today’s meeting, City Manager Chris Murray and TTC CEO Rick Leary took questions from councillors about the ongoing discussions around the subway upload as part of a previously scheduled update.
Asked about the province’s intention to use “alternate technology” on the relief line, Leary said that he has not been given “any specifics whatsoever” on what that could mean. He said that questions he has had over integration with the existing rapid transit system have also gone unanswered.
Leary also confirmed that the TTC has not been made aware of where the province would place the two additional stops along the Line 2 subway extension or how they would pay for them.
The one-stop subway extension was previously estimated at $3.35 billion but on Wednesday staff confirmed that the cost has risen to $3.9 billion, exceeding the $3.56 billion set aside for Scarborough transit.
“There has been no clarification on their part on what they are proposing,” Leary said.
Province say there will not be delays to existing projects
In their letter, which was addressed to Leary and City Manager Chris Murray, Tapp and Lindsey said that the province is “actively considering significant financial commitments” towards the four priority projects that they identified but also has an “expectation” that it will “have a leadership role in the planning, design and delivery of these projects.”
Premier Doug Ford told CP24 that such a leadership role just makes sense, given the province’s experience managing multi-billion dollar infrastructure projects as well as its ability to amortize capital costs over a 30-year period.
He said that while the TTC is “great at operating lines” it has not had much success building them.
“We haven’t been building transportation in 30 years and if you go on the street and talk to people they don’t care who is building it; they just want it built. But we can build it faster, we can build it less expensive and we can build a better system,” he said.
In 2017, the TTC did open a new six-stop subway extension into York Region. In 2002, the TTC also opened a new subway line along a stretch of Sheppard Avenue.
Speaking with CP24, Ford called the planned one-stop subway extension to Scarborough “lousy” and said that the borough deserves a “proper subway.”
He also said described the alternative technology that the province plans to use to deliver the relief subway line as an “incredible plan” and an example of “out of the box” thinking but refused to provide further details, other than to say that an announcement will come “in the next short while.”
In a subsequent interview with Newstalk 1010 on Wednesday afternoon, Ford also suggested that the proposed route for the relief subway line could be altered.
““I will give you one little hint, it is not just going to be a downtown relief line. It is going to other parts but it is exciting,” he said.
Staff confirm delays are likely
During Wednesday’s meeting, staff confirmed that the changes proposed to the Eglinton West LRT and the Scarborough subway extension would likely result in delays to both projects but they said that it is too early to say what impact the unspecified changes to the relief subway line would have on the timeline for that project.
Toronto-Danforth Coun. Paula Fletcher, however, told CP24 during a break in the meeting that she believes delays are likely on that project as well if the province is allowed to tinker with existing plans.
The province could just easily say we are funding the relief line right now – it has got its environmental assessment, it is pretty well designed and could start anytime – but the letter says we have to go back to the beginning,” she said
Beaches-East York Coun. Brad Bradford also expressed concerns over the changes to key projects in an interview with CP24.
“The risk is we are looking back towards 2010 and it is groundhog day in that sense,” he said of the decision to cancel a fully-funded line of light rail transit lines. “We have a transit plan and that’s what we need to move forward with. I think Torontonians are sick and tired of the transit delays and us not getting this stuff built.”
During today’s meeting, council voted in facour of allocating $2 million from a reserve fund to provide funding for staff and third-party advice to support the discussions regarding the subway upload.
Council also voted in favour of asking the province to “publicly disclose a value-for-money assessment for the projects outlined” in its letter.