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Federal dollars could ease traffic gridlock

But Collenette makes funding contingent on similar commitment from Queen’s Park


Friday, March 9, 2001

Ottawa could provide many millions of dollars to help relieve traffic gridlock in Toronto if the province makes a commitment to finance transportation projects, federal Transport Minister David Collenette said yesterday.

The government has set aside about $2-billion for infrastructure improvements to cities, Mr. Collenette told business leaders at the Toronto Board of Trade. However, he said, “it should not be merely used to make up the gaps created by provincial cuts.”

The province ended subsidies and capital grants for transportation when it took on the responsibility for schools three years ago, leaving the Toronto Transit Commission and GO Transit dependent on fares to operate and limited in their ability to expand and buy new equipment.

Mr. Collenette said he believes there will be increasing pressure on the province to make a new commitment to transit. Premier Mike Harris recently promised that the province will develop programs to help reduce the gridlock on suburban roads.

“I’m not going to get into a slanging match with the province,” Mr. Collenette said. “We have made the point that if the federal government is going to come in with support for transit, it has to be over and above what the province is doing.”

In the last federal budget, $2.65-billion was earmarked for infrastructure improvements in cities across the country. About $600-million is already committed for highways and improvements at border crossings, but that leaves $2-billion available for projects, including transit systems.

“I hope the City of Toronto will be identifying key transportation projects for funding,” Mr. Collenette said.

He added that estimates of the cost of road congestion in the Greater Toronto Area exceed $2-billion a year, in terms of delayed deliveries and the smog and pollution from too many vehicles on the roads.

He said there is a particular need for transit alternatives to the overloaded roads in the outer suburbs.

To help ease traffic congestion, Mr. Collenette said the government has asked Via Rail to work on improving commuter services in Montreal and Toronto. He said meetings will be held between Via Rail and GO Transit on sharing trains and ticketing from stations they both serve, including Oakville and Oshawa.

Mr. Collenette also announced that the government is accepting proposals from firms interested in building and running a transportation service from Pearson International Airport to Union Station. Any type of system, including street cars, would be considered, he said.

He responded to questions about the economics of an airport transit link by noting that within 15 years, Pearson is expected to be handling 50 million passengers a year, up from about 28 million today. That would make the airport as busy as Heathrow Airport in London is today, and would tax the surrounding roads. It will be a viable project if it provides a seamless link with Via Rail, GO transit and the subway, he said.

In the longer term, the federal government is also keeping open the option of building an airport on lands it expropriated in the 1970s near Pickering. However, Mr. Collenette said any airport built there would be a small regional facility, not a major international airport.

He said there are environmental concerns about the Pickering lands, which are partly on the Oak Ridges Moraine.