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City needs $800M annually to end gridlock: Chong

Transit report: Province, Ottawa called on to make up funding


James Wallace
National Post

The provincial and federal governments need to contribute $800-million annually to eliminate gridlock in the Toronto area, a report on the region’s traffic woes says.

“The real challenge facing the [greater Toronto area] is that its municipalities do not have the fiscal capacity to end the gridlock that is threatening to choke the GTA and bring the economy of Ontario to a halt,” writes Gordon Chong, chairman of the Greater Toronto Services Board (GTSB), in a report to be tabled today.

Mr. Chong wants the province to give his board ranging new powers to manage transit and regional growth.

“What we need is a commitment from the two senior levels of government to get back into the capital funding of infrastructure so we can relieve the problems we’re facing,” Mr. Chong told the Post yesterday.

Toronto area municipalities spend a combined $570-million a year on maintaining and building public transit, but $1.37-billion annually is needed “to accommodate the projected population growth and reduce the congestion,” a recent consultants report said.

Last week, the Post reported on plans by the Ontario government to create an agency to finance and oversee public transit in and around Toronto.

The province is preparing to roll out a $100-million program to help municipalities pay for transit capital projects.

Mr. Chong’s report essentially offers up the GTSB as that new agency.

He wants to remake the GTSB into a powerful broker that would hand out provincial and federal transit grants to municipalities, decide how to expand and co-ordinate public transportation and possibly have power to levy a gas tax to help pay for transit services. It would also oversee GO Transit.

Chris Hodgson, the Minister of Municipal Affairs, has asked the board to deliver the report as quickly as possible to guide work he is doing to end gridlock in Toronto, provincial sources said.

Other proposals in the report include:

  • Make the board responsible for “growth management” in Toronto and its surrounding regions;
  • Give the board the power to co-ordinate services ranging from sewers to economic development and tourism and planning and some regional roads;
  • Permit the board to cut deals with the private sector to expand or manage public transit;
  • Pool some of the costs borne by the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) among the region’s five local governments, as welfare and social assistance are currently pooled.

Mr. Chong said the GTSB, as it is currently structured, is little more than a debating society for municipal politicians. The board was created in 1999 to co-ordinate regional services but has no power over municipalities.

“It hasn’t been a decision making body simply because it doesn’t have the clout to make decisions,” he said.

“There really is not a point for it to continue in its current incarnation unless it has additional powers and responsibilities and the appropriate funding or the ability to enter into partnerships with the private sector for funding to cause these services to be operated.”