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No blockbuster transit surprises

Globe and Mail Update
March 25, 2008 at 4:58 PM EDT

TORONTO — Ontario plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on delay-plagued GO Transit for new buses, trains and tracks, a new signal system to boost capacity on Toronto’s cramped Yonge subway line and new vehicles for suburban bus “rapid-transit” systems.

The provincial budget delivered Tuesday includes more than $1-billion in additional cash for public transit over the next five years, much of it in answer to requests last year from Metrolinx, the regional transportation board made up mostly of Toronto-area municipal politicians the province has asked to come up with a master plan to ease the region’s traffic problems.

Commuters crowded into subway trains on the Toronto Transit Commission’s Yonge line should be pleased to hear that the province is pledging $293-million for a new computerized system, called automated train control, to replace the line’s 50-year-old signals that tell subway drivers when to stop and go.

The move, a necessary step before the province’s previously announced plan to extend the Yonge line north to York Region can be realized, will eventually allow the transit agency to run trains more closely together, easing overcrowding. The province is also promising to cover additional money for new subway cars, already on order, that the TTC says will carry more passengers.

GO Transit - singled out in a report from the province’s auditor-general last year for failing to keep its trains running on time - will also get $90-million in new investments, asked for by Metrolinx. This money will buy 20 new bi-level rail cars for the packed Lakeshore line, new passing tracks on the growing Bradford and Stouffville lines, and 10 new double-decker buses, the first of which Premier Dalton McGuinty unveiled last week. This is in addition to $266-million for GO Transit’s other expansion projects over the next five years, including fixing up Union Station.

Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory criticized the Liberal government for failing to commit to more stable annual funding for public transit, instead of doling out one-time cash for particular projects.

“It doesn’t allow people to plan. It’s here today, gone tomorrow,” Mr. Tory told reporters.

Much of the funding is aimed at laying the groundwork for the Premier’s $17.5-billion public transit plans announced last June. The other funding for projects - some already under way - is sprinkled across the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton and includes:

  • $33-million for bus route improvements along Hamilton’s King, Main and James Streets, and a new train platform at James Street North Station.

  • $69-million for hybrid buses to run along Dundas and Hurontario Streets in Mississauga, a new Pearson Airport transit “hub,” and improvements to GO service to Bolton.

  • $57.6-million for bus rapid transit along Dundas Street in Halton Region.

  • $100-million for new vehicles, planning and intersection improvements for York Region’s Viva bus rapid transit system north up Yonge Street to Newmarket and along Highway 7 to Kennedy Road.

But Tuesday’s list had no blockbuster transit surprises, unlike past budgets, when the province unveiled a massive multibillion plan to expand Toronto’s Spadina subway north into York Region that even surprised the TTC, for example.

The budget also did not include any money to help with the city’s $1.4-billion plans to buy 204 new, larger, light-rail vehicles to replace its aging streetcar fleet - money TTC officials say they need this year.