Mayor Tory has backed away from a threat to halt planning work on the Yonge Street subway extension and says he will instead “work together” with York Region mayors to make sure the province understands that the project must be built “concurrently” with the downtown relief line.

Last week, Tory told reporters that there would be no point continuing work on the 7.4 kilometre extension into York Region as long as there is “uncertainty” around whether or not the province will help fund the estimated $6.8 billion cost of the first phase of the relief line.

Tory, however, reversed course on Tuesday when he appeared alongside the Chair of York Region and the mayors of Richmond Hill and Markham at city hall. The joint appearance came after the York Region politicians appeared before the city’s executive committee to voice their support for beginning the next phase of planning work on the subway extension. The $90 million cost of that work is being funded entirely by the province and York Region; however TTC staff are mostly responsible for the planning.

“I guess what interceded was the number of discussions we have had back and forth and we met yesterday, together with Mayor Bevilacqua of Vaughan, and we had a discussion about this and we are going to work together in a positive way,” Tory said of his about-face. “What we really want to happen is to have these go ahead concurrently and know that they are going to be funded by all three levels of government. That is the important point here and that is the point we are going to push forward on.”

The province has provided $150 million for planning and design work on the downtown relief line but has not yet agreed to fund the construction of the project.

Last week, Tory told reporters that the “relief line must be well advanced and funded before we can even consider an expansion” of the Yonge Street subway line but on Tuesday he walked those comments back and suggested that the city must take the approach that both projects “proceed together” and be jointly funded by all three levels of government.

The downtown relief line is necessary due to the fact that the Line 1 subway is expected to exceed capacity by 2031.

“I haven’t taken anything off the table, what I have done is sat down with my colleagues from York Region and realized we are on common cause on this,” Tory said. “None of these projects can proceed without all three governments taking part.”

Matlow calls change ‘reckless and irresponsible’

Tory said that his decision to work with York Region politicians to get the relief line and the Yonge subway extension built is not a significant change in approach and is just a recognition of the fact that the group has a common purpose.

At least one councillor, however, says that Tory is effectively backing away from the city’s longstanding contention that the relief line is its number one priority transit project.

“To tie the evidence-based top transit priority with an extension to York Region will most likely and quite possibly hold up the relief line for years if these two projects aren’t funded,” Josh Matlow told CP24 at city hall. “I am shocked and amazed that Mayor Tory would make an announcement like this so unilaterally. This has not been discussed by council, this is not something that council has ever supported and it is certainly something that I, along with many others, will try to fight if this is the agreement moving forward.”

Subway extension would go to Richmond Hill

The proposed five-stop extension of the Yonge Street subway to Richmond Hill includes two stops in Toronto and three in York Region.

Discussing the project with members of executive committee on Tuesday, Markham Mayor

Frank Scarpitti called it “the most justifiable investment in subway infrastructure in recent history.”

“Today there are 20,000 people that make their way down Yonge Street in more than 2,500 buses. There is another 10,000 that don’t get picked up by the transit system and have to make their way down to Finch Station,” he said. “Those people aren’t going away. They will continue to use the system and whatever the numbers are today those numbers will continue to grow.”

Tory has been engaged in an exhausted war of words with the province over its refusal to commit to funding the downtown relief line but on Tuesday Scarpitti said that he believes the provinces “recognizes the importance” of both that line and the Yonge Street subway extension.

“I don’t think they would hand out money (for planning work) if they didn’t realize that these are two very important projects,” he said.

The staff report before executive committee today called for planning work on the downtown relief line and Yonge street subway extension to be advanced to the 15 to 30 per cent threshold required to develop a cost estimate and schedule. The report was ultimately approved by committee members and will go to city council as a whole next week.