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Officials dispute mayor's plan for subway

Paul Moloney

When the new Sheppard subway opens next year, it will still be only half-finished as far as Mayor Mel Lastman is concerned.

Lastman wants to see the $1 billion line - which runs 6.4 kilometres from Yonge St. to Don Mills Rd. - extended another 8 kilometres to Scarborough Town Centre as originally planned. But TTC leaders, including two city councillors, suggest they have other priorities for expanding transit - if any expansion can be afforded.

“The vision is happening,” Lastman said yesterday. “A lot of people laughed and said it will never happen, it couldn’t happen. It’s all happening.”

While announcing plans for a 20-storey, 540,000-square-foot office tower beside Mel Lastman Square in North York, the mayor spoke enthusiastically about development going up in the North Yonge corridor and along Sheppard Ave. E., spurred by subway access.

The new office tower will house 1,700 workers when it opens in 2004, and Lastman enthused that the Sheppard corridor can become an even greater magnet for development, adding it’s a personal priority to extend the subway east.

“It’s something I want to do. It’s just too bad it was cut back at Don Mills Rd. Most definitely, it is a half-finished subway, there’s no two ways about it.”

Lastman said provincial and federal governments must bring cash to the table if the Toronto Transit Commission is to expand service. TTC chief general manager Rick Ducharme said, however, that he wants to first ensure the transit system gets $3.8 billion over the next 10 years to replace worn-out buses, subway cars and tracks.

“Once you’ve got that paid for, then you can start building subways,” Ducharme said. “And obviously, we’ve built half a subway on Sheppard and I agree with the mayor that we should finish that one and do it right.”

Previous estimates have indicated it would cost $3.3 billion to complete the Sheppard subway line and push the Spadina line north from Downsview station to York University and out to Highway 7.

The latter project may make more sense than the mayor’s dream for the Sheppard line, according to Councillor Brian Ashton, TTC chair.

Ashton said the university provides guaranteed ridership, and plans for a office tower centre in Vaughan to the north could justify expanding the subway into the 905 area for the first time.

“That would be a really bold statement about this being one economic region that requires transit as a pillar,” said Ashton (Ward 36, Scarborough Southwest).

Future lines should be based on good planning rather than politics, said Councillor Joe Mihevc, a TTC commissioner.

“Clearly, the Sheppard line is in play but so is extending the Bloor line out to Sherway Gardens and the Spadina line to York University,” said Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul’s).

“We have to look at ridership projections and the number of cars that will be taken off the streets, rather than somebody’s pet project.”

Expanding the TTC’s bus and streetcar fleet should be done before a new subway is even considered, said Keith Stewart, smog co-ordinator for the Toronto Environmental Alliance.

“Subways are great mega-projects for politicians, because they get to announce this really big thing, but what we really need is more buses on the road and streetcars.”