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Building the TTC, $100M at a time

Proposal would take year-by-year budget approach
Plan requires federal, provincial partnership


Toronto politicians are calling for a continuous program to expand public transit, at a cost of $100 million a year, to accommodate an expected 1 million extra residents over the next 30 years.

“If we don’t do this, gridlock is just going to get worse and worse,” Councillor David Shiner, chair of the city’s budget advisory committee, said yesterday.

“People can’t move now,” Shiner said. “Product isn’t being delivered on time, people can’t get around, intersections are blocked, and you can see the haze over the city in the summer time.”

The budget committee voted unanimously for the idea, proposed by Shiner, and instructed the Toronto Transit Commission to show how it would phase in expansion with guaranteed funding averaging $100 million annually.

It’s the first time since the new city was formed in 1998 that elected officials have voted for an ongoing expansion program.

TTC chief general manager Rick Ducharme said the approach is better than one-shot megaprojects such as the new Sheppard line, which spawned years of debate before construction began.

“You could go maybe two or three kilometres at a time, build another station, and then go again later, rather than the megaproject approach of saying, `Okay, if we don’t have $1 billion or $2 billion, we don’t build anything,’ which is wrong,” Ducharme said.

The proposal fits into the city’s new official plan, which calls for more intense development along major arterial roads, backed up by better transit service. Critics of the plan have said it looks good on paper but are skeptical about the city’s commitment to investing the money needed to make it a reality.

“We, as a council, have supported the official plan, which is premised on expanding transit,” Shiner said.

“My concern is we don’t have a plan in place to build transit. If we want to ensure a better, more liveable city and a stronger GTA, we have to provide a long-term financial commitment to transit.”

Shiner cautioned, however, that for the plan to work, federal and provincial governments would have to contribute equally — committing $33 million every year.

Also, the money would have to be in addition to provincial and federal contributions toward maintenance of the existing system. It takes about $380 million a year to fix tracks, maintain signals and replace worn-out vehicles.

The city will sell the plan by emphasizing that provincial and federal governments stand to gain income and sales tax revenues from transit construction and the new development it would generate, said Shiner (Ward 24, Willowdale).

He is proposing that the city show its commitment by including its $33 million share in the city’s 2003 capital budget.

While the cash-strapped city would have to borrow the money, interest rates are low and the benefits make it a good investment, he said.

The TTC has identified two subway projects and a network of exclusive-lane surface transit as priorities should money become available.

Current subway projects include finishing the Sheppard line, which now stops at Don Mills Rd. but was originally planned to go to Scarborough Town Centre; and extending the Spadina line from Downsview station to York University.

The Sheppard line, which runs 6.4 kilometres from Yonge St. to Don Mills, cost $933 million; extending it another 8.4 kilometres to the Scarborough Town Centre would cost $2.1 billion more, including trains and expansion of the Wilson train yard.

The York University extension, strongly backed by university and York Region officials, would run about 6 kilometres to Steeles at a cost of $1.4 billion.

Ducharme said planners will now look at breaking the projects down into phases and recommend which would go first, assuming the financing is approved.

“Sheppard can be built in three stages. We’ve already said that, and it all makes sense,” he said. “With an average of $100 million, you can do a lot of good on Sheppard.”

The first stage would probably go from Don Mills Rd. to Victoria Park Ave., with a station between at Consumers Rd.

The York University extension could take longer, he added.

“The Sheppard environmental assessment process is pretty well done. It’s just reconfirmation. With Spadina, the (proposed route) has changed so much, you could spend two years doing environmental assessment work.”

The TTC will outline details of a proposed construction plan early next year.

“We’d come back and say, `Here’s what we can do,’” Ducharme said. “We’ll report back to the commission and the budget advisory committee.”

Councillor Joe Pantalone (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina), a budget committee member, said transit is key to accommodating future growth. “It’s inconceivable that that growth can occur without being supported by a transportation system, which has to be transit. Yet that’s what’s happening, and it really is a recipe for disaster for the community.”

A plan to come to grips with the problem is long overdue, he added. “The city must be looking at the future as well as worrying about — and pulling our hair out, as we tend to do — about the woes of the present.”