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St. Clair back on track soon, Mihevc predicts

Despite the commissioner’s optimism, foes of streetcar lanes vow to fight on


Thursday, January 12, 2006 Page A15

The stalled project to put dedicated streetcar lanes on St. Clair Avenue could be revived in weeks, transit commissioner Joe Mihevc says, after the Ontario Court of Appeal refused to hear a challenge from the group fighting the plan.

“This could be basically decided upon in the next month, and then we’re back on track,” Mr. Mihevc said of the decision, released on Tuesday.

The Court of Appeal’s move lets stand a divisional court ruling that ordered a new hearing on the St. Clair Avenue West project and tossed out an earlier legal defeat for the city. Now, the two sides have to make their arguments again before a new three-judge divisional court panel, in a hearing expected in weeks.

Margaret Smith, head of the Save Our St. Clair citizens group that argues the streetcar plan will strangle traffic flow, said she was surprised at Tuesday’s decision. But she said she was “reasonably confident” that a second court hearing would favour her group.

“I don’t want to jinx it. I don’t want to be overly confident. But we believe we have a strong case,” Ms. Smith said.

Whether her group wins the coming legal round, Ms. Smith told The Globe and Mail yesterday that she was considering taking her fight to the political arena, to challenge Mr. Mihevc for his council seat this fall in St. Paul’s West, which straddles St. Clair Avenue.

“Well, you know, a lot of people are suggesting it. So I’m just thinking about it,” she said. “… A lot of people in that ward are very upset.”

The legal fight over the streetcar lanes, which the city says are needed to make public-transit service more reliable, has essentially set the project back by a year. Crews have left piles of track in the middle of St. Clair, blocking lanes of traffic. Even if the city wins its case, construction would not resume until the spring thaw. The delay, Mr. Mihevc said, has added $2.7-million to the $65-million project, including $800,000 in legal fees.

Ms. Smith said her group has raised $74,000 from local businesses and residents for its legal fight, but expects to need closer to $100,000 before the battle is over.

Last October, lawyers for Ms. Smith persuaded a three-judge panel to rule against the city and the Toronto Transit Commission on the project. But the city challenged that ruling, saying one of the judges on that panel, Mr. Justice Ted Matlow, had been involved in an unrelated dispute with the city over a development in his St. Clair West and Spadina Road neighbourhood.

The two other judges on the panel agreed that the situation created an “apprehension of bias” against city hall, and voted to grant a new hearing, with new judges. Judge Matlow dissented. He did not return calls yesterday.

Save Our St. Clair argues the city’s official plan does not allow for this kind of rapid-transit project on St. Clair Avenue. The group also says the city’s environmental-assessment process was flawed.

If Save Our St. Clair wins again, the city could be forced into a lengthy process to seek to amend its official plan, which could mean even more delays, said Eric Gillespie, a lawyer for Save Our St. Clair.

City lawyer Graham Rempe, who has been handling the St. Clair matter, would say little about the city’s case yesterday. “We did carry out what we believe was a comprehensive planning process, and we’re looking forward to presenting that to the court.”