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PM, Premier pledge $950-million for Sheppard line

Entire cost of planned light-rail line to be covered, but no word yet on streetcar replacement

JEFF GRAY May 16, 2009

Stepping off a clanging, 30-year-old streetcar at an elaborately staged news conference inside a TTC maintenance garage, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty pledged yesterday to cover the entire $950-million cost of the city’s planned light-rail line along Sheppard Avenue East.

But the announcement left unanswered questions over whether Ottawa or Queen’s Park would help fund the $1.2-billion replacement of Toronto’s existing, deteriorating and mostly downtown streetcar fleet - the very vehicles used yesterday as a photo-op backdrop.

A beaming Mr. Miller welcomed the Sheppard line funding, the latest cheque for his Transit City light-rail expansion plans after a $7.2-billion commitment from the Premier last month - with no federal cash - for lines on Eglinton and Finch Avenues and for an overhaul of the Scarborough RT.

The 15-kilometre Sheppard light-rail line, to run in lanes separated from traffic, from Don Mills subway station to Meadowvale Road, has long been the first priority of the proposed new lines.

Toronto Transit Commission officials say construction is to start this fall. Two-thirds of the bill will be covered by Queen’s Park, the rest by Ottawa.

The Prime Minister said the new line was part of his government’s plan to stimulate the economy and would transform the city:

“We are building the city of the future here today … a future with fewer vehicles on the road spewing pollution, a future where commuters can get anywhere in the [Greater Toronto Area], quickly and comfortably.”

But the new light-rail vehicles included in yesterday’s announcement, and the TTC’s plan to replace the current leet that runs on its existing routes, are linked.

The TTC announced plans to award a $1.2-billion contract to replace the current fleet to Montreal-based Bombardier Inc. last month.

The new vehicles for the Sheppard project are an option in that proposed contract, an offer that expires June 27.

The city has applied for economic stimulus funding from Ottawa and Queen’s Park for a share of the first batch of 204 replacement streetcars.

But recent comments from the Premier and federal and provincial cabinet ministers have cast doubt on whether the funding would flow.

TTC chief general manager Gary Webster said if that June deadline is missed, the transit agency would be “challenged” to procure new vehicles in time for the Sheppard line to open in 2013. But he stressed that talks with both governments were positive.

Yesterday, both the Premier and the Prime Minister said they were considering pitching in for the replacement streetcars, but stopped short of making a commitment, despite their announcement of the new line.

“We’d love to be able to find a way to do this,” Mr. McGuinty said. “I can’t say yes; I can’t say no.”

However, Mr. Harper, in his prepared remarks, declared that the new vehicles for the Sheppard line would be built by Bombardier workers in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Speaking to reporters in a hangar-like room filled with streetcars under repair, the mayor said he was confident money would be found: “Standing here surrounded by streetcars today, it’s hard to believe we won’t find a way to resolve that.”

In a telephone interview, federal NDP Leader Jack Layton, MP for Toronto-Danforth, said the Conservative government was spending money much too slowly to boost the economy and was failing to do enough to help Toronto.

“This is money moving at a snail’s pace,” he said, urging Ottawa to support the Bombardier streetcar contract.

Gerard Kennedy, the Liberal MP for Parkdale-High Park, said the government was using old money from its 2007 Building Canada fund, not new stimulus money.

He said the Conservatives should spend more on transit in Toronto: “They have a totally visionless approach to infrastructure…. The idea of laying out the tracks and not having the cars ready doesn’t make sense.”


Transit City

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Premier Dalton McGuinty announced funding yesterday for the Sheppard light-rapid transit line, expected to be the first to break ground as part of Toronto’s Transit City plan. The province announced funding for the Finch line and the Eglinton crosstown line earlier this year.

FINCH LIGHT-RAPID TRANSIT

A 23-kilometre light-rail line from Highway 27 in Etobicoke to Finch subway station on the Yonge line that continues east from Finch station to Don Mills subway station on the Sheppard line.

Current cost estimate: $1.2-billion

Completion date: 2013

SHEPPARD LIGHT-RAPID TRANSIT

A 15-kilometre light-rail line from the Don Mills subway station to Meadowvale Road. Construction is expected to start at the end of this year.

Current cost estimate: $950-million

Completion date: 2013

EGLINTON CROSSTOWN RAPID TRANSIT

A 31-kilometre light-rail line from Kennedy Station to Pearson airport, with a 13-kilometre tunnelled section from approximately Leslie Street

to Keele Street.

Current cost estimate: $4.6-billion

Completion date: 2016




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