$1.5B to extend subway

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Duncan to announce 6.2-km York University extension to Spadina line in March 23 provincial budget: Sources

Mar. 7, 2006. 05:33 AM
ROBERT BENZIE
QUEEN’S PARK BUREAU CHIEF

Funding for the much-anticipated York University subway line is expected in the March 23 provincial budget, the Toronto Star has learned.

Sources say Finance Minister Dwight Duncan will use his first budget to announce the $1.5 billion, 6.2-kilometre extension of the Toronto Transit Commission’s Spadina line from Downsview station to York’s campus.

It would be the first TTC rail line into Greater Toronto, crossing the city limits to Vaughan on the north side of Steeles Ave.

Sources say the project would be a huge political boon for the Liberals as they gear up for next year’s election.

The expansion into the GTA is significant because the Liberals want to retain the seats they hold in the 905 area code, a region that has traditionally been a stronghold for the Progressive Conservatives.

“Traffic gridlock is a major issue in the 905 and people there want to see that we are doing something tangible to alleviate that,” said a government source.

It’s not clear how much of the price tag Queen’s Park will cover, but city hall has been asking the province and Ottawa to each kick in $500 million toward the project. Nor is it known how soon construction could begin.

Liberal insiders say corporate tax revenues are so much higher than projected that the government will have more than enough money for a high-profile investment in the TTC.

“Put it this way, (the province) is having a hard time showing a deficit this (fiscal) year,” said one source, noting Duncan prefers to eliminate the budget deficit in dramatic fashion next year — just in time for the Oct. 4, 2007 provincial election.

As disclosed by the Star on Saturday, Ontario has an estimated $1 billion corporate-tax windfall in the treasury. By law, that money has to be spent — or earmarked for spending — by the end of the fiscal year on March 31 or else it must go toward deficit reduction.

That’s why Duncan announced Friday he would table the budget on March 23 — almost two months earlier than usual. An aide to the treasurer declined to confirm or deny that new funding for transit would be in the budget.

“We won’t speculate what’s in our budget,” Sean Hamilton said yesterday.

The York subway extension would be a GTA public transit hub that would include GO Transit buses, York Region Viva bus rapid transit, as well as TTC bus service.

Environmental assessments have already been done on much of the land needed for the extended line.

York Region has long pressed for the Yonge subway line to come north from Finch station to Richmond Hill. But the TTC wants the under-utilized Spadina line to be the one that is expanded, taking passenger pressure off a Yonge line already packed to capacity.

With the extension, York Region passengers could begin and end their subway commute at the new Steeles station, rather than at Finch.

Starting at Downsview station on Dufferin St., the extension would travel west along Sheppard Ave. to stop at Downsview Park, north on Keele St. to Finch, continuing along Keele before veering northwest onto York University’s campus and then ending at Steeles.

While the York extension has long been promised but never delivered, it is not a major surprise that the Liberals are set to move forward with it.

Former finance minister Greg Sorbara, MPP for Vaughan-King-Aurora, has long been a champion of the line.

“The question is when we’re going to start,” Sorbara said last September, before he stepped down as treasurer due to an RCMP investigation involving his family’s company.

“My preference would be earlier rather than later. We’re working on financial issues with other levels of government, notably the TTC and the federal government,” he said at the time.

“Certainly, we will be partners in the next phase of this and obviously in the subway. The subway linkage is critical to making not just the city of Toronto’s transit system move more effectively, but Viva as well. It (the York campus) will become one of the major hubs for a better GTA transit system.”

Since Duncan succeeded Sorbara last fall, there has been no major change in the government’s fiscal policy.

The subway extension is not the only transit project that could be addressed in the upcoming budget. It is expected the popular Viva bus rapid transit system will receive $7.5 million in bridge financing to help the second phase of the project, which will move buses into their own lanes on Highway 7 and Yonge St., among other thoroughfares. There is an environmental assessment set to get underway for a Viva lane on Warden Ave., north of Steeles.

Proponents in the 905 have also been pushing for cash for GO Transit’s bus rapid transit project. That could mean funding toward the Mississauga Transitway, with an expansion of bus-only lanes on Highway 403 into employment hubs such as Pearson International Airport. As well, there are other GO Transit rail projects — notably a train to Barrie and third-track construction on the Lakeshore line — announced by previous provincial and federal governments that have yet to be realized. The infusion of funding toward public transit fits in with Premier Dalton McGuinty’s long-stated dream of a regional transit authority.

Legislation creating the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority, which would include the TTC, GO Transit and other local systems, is expected as early as this spring.

Meanwhile, there was further evidence at Queen’s Park yesterday that the provincial treasury is brimming.

Agriculture Minister Leona Dombrowsky announced $125 million in new funds for farmers to be sent out before the spring planting season begins.

Dombrowsky, who refused to say whether Duncan was also giving her ministry an additional share of the new-found provincial largesse in the budget, said the farm bail-out includes $80 million for grain and oilseed producers who lost money in last year’s crop. An extra $35 million will go to fruit and vegetable farmers, while $10 million will go toward an Ontario livestock and poultry “traceability system” in case of a food-safety emergency.

With Files From Kevin McGran and Ian Urquhart




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