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For city, TTC's a big-ticket item

Toronto’s capital budget

Half of capital budget earmarked for public transit

Feb 09, 2007 04:30 AM
Paul Moloney
City Hall Bureau

The Toronto Transit Commission’s appetite for new vehicles and repairs and upgrades to its facilities will swallow half of the city’s capital budget this year, council’s budget committee was told yesterday.

City finance staff have pencilled in the TTC to receive $717 million of the $1.4 billion capital plan for 2007. That’s a little less than the transit system has asked for: $747 million. Council is to approve the final capital budget March 7.

“With these recommendations, I think it can safely be said that this is a transit budget,” said Councillor Shelley Carroll, budget committee chair.

That’s the problem, said Councillor Kyle Rae (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale). Rae fears that with transit soaking up so much of the budget set aside for repairs and upgrades to the city’s physical assets, other needed capital projects may be getting pushed aside.

“My heart fell,” he said, after seeing the breakdown. “We’re no longer operating as a city. We’re now operating as a transit authority with a little bit of stuff on the side. We’re not able to sustain our other divisions, other departments.”

Mayor David Miller said the city needs more financial support from senior levels of government for transit, to take pressure off city finances.

“Our debt has increased significantly,” Miller told the Star in Ottawa, where he’s gathered with big-city mayors from across the country to push for a national transit strategy and a one-cent share of the federal GST for struggling municipalities.

“We haven’t been able to expand the system as we need to, because we’re too busy struggling to survive.”

Miller said requesting action from the federal government is not unusual in the industrialized world.

“Every other country in the G8 has a national transit strategy, and I’m here in Ottawa to talk with other mayors to fight for just that. We need permanent, sustained, significant funding for transit.”

Chief financial officer Joe Pennachetti said the city faces repair backlogs in roads, parks and recreation, plus big-ticket costs for garbage disposal.

The estimated $220 million cost of buying the Green Lane landfill, near London, Ont., is not in the budget, Pennachetti said, adding that he will report this spring on options for financing the purchase.

“Councillor Rae has a valid point that there are significant pressures in what would normally be called core municipal services,” Pennachetti said.

Last year, the transit budget, at $552 million, took up 44 per cent of the overall $1.26 billion capital budget.

Major items in this year’s transit request include $222 million for 320 new buses; a $104 million down payment on 234 new subway cars that start arriving in 2010; $64 million for track work; $66 million for new subway signals and $31 million for a new bus garage that will open late this year.

The TTC’s message? Get used to big requests.

From now through 2011, the transit system expects to seek more than $800 million annually.

“It’s subway cars, it’s buses, it’s streetcars,” said interim chief general manager Gary Webster. “It’s a 55-year-old system and it costs money to maintain it.”

While transit is seeking a lot more, road repair spending will remain about the same as last year, at $246 million.

But Carroll (Ward 33, Don Valley East) said the city is planning a robust road-repair schedule.

“Are we investing? Yes, we are. You can bet that every councillor will get complaints this year in the month of May, when we begin to rehabilitate 16 bridges and resurface and disrupt 124 kilometres of road,” she said.

With files from Jim Byers and John Spears




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