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Rapid-transit lanes core of TTC plan

Proposal offers faster service at a fraction of cost of expanding subway, officials say

Thursday, January 13, 2005 - Page A13

The Toronto Transit Commission unveiled an ambitious proposal to crisscross the city over the next decade with Spadina-style dedicated lanes for buses or streetcars, in the hopes of delivering rapid transit at a fraction of the cost of expanding the subway system.

The plans include a long list of streets on which the TTC wants to set off its vehicles from traffic in order to make public transit more efficient and attractive — the very move that has created such controversy along St. Clair Avenue West.

But the idea of offering faster service without having to build billion-dollar subway lines will likely appeal to senior levels of government, TTC vice-chairman Joe Mihevc says.

“My bet is … we’re looking at something that is doable,” Mr. Mihevc said yesterday, adding that a network of rapid-transit lines would cost hundreds of millions of dollars instead of billions.

Mayor David Miller, who is a member of the commission, praised the proposals as a way to give more Torontonians a real alternative to their cars.

Drawn up with the city’s planning department to link improved public transit to parts of Toronto expected to grow, the plans are still in the very early stages, with no firm costs attached. The TTC approved the ideas in principle yesterday.

In a presentation to the commission, Mitch Stambler, manager of services planning, listed streets on which the TTC hoped to put rapid-transit lanes one day.

They include Don Mills Road, Pape Avenue, McCowan Road, Sheppard Avenue, Lawrence Avenue, Eglinton Avenue, Dundas Street West, Queen Street, King Street and Lake Shore Boulevard.

These plans come on top of projects already in the works, such as the bus lanes on Keele Street to York University, bus lanes up Yonge Street from Finch station to Steeles Avenue, and the St. Clair streetcar project. The plans also call for looking at dedicated bus lanes or light-rail lines in hydro corridors that cut across suburban areas.

Each line could cost $30-million to $90-million. Streetcars or light rail would cost more. Each line would require an environmental assessment that would take a year or two. Construction would take another two or three years, the TTC says.

But that compares favourably to the Sheppard subway line, which, at 5.3-kilometres, cost $994-million and took eight years to build.

The proposal includes a timetable, which assumes that the TTC finds the money, for many of the projects, calling for environmental studies and construction to begin over the next four years.

Commissioner David Shiner called the plans unrealistic, given the TTC’s funding constraints. The city is asking the commission to slash more than $100-million from its capital budget this year, he said.