By John Goddard, David Rider and Tess Kalinowski
Calling the move “disgraceful,” “thoughtless” and “thick,” Toronto Mayor David Miller denounced the Ontario government’s move Thursday to postpone $4 billion in GTA transit expansion.
“This is beyond short-sighted,” Miller told reporters, his voice quavering while pointing out that threatened lines include ones to help residents of some of Toronto’s poorest neighbourhoods — in northeast Scarborough and northwest Etobicoke — get to work without taking several buses.
“It makes absolutely no economic sense, it makes no sense from a social policy perspective,” Miller said, an opinion echoed by several Toronto mayoral candidates.
Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government is asking its Metrolinx regional transit agency to find a way to save $4 billion over five years by delaying some of the $9.3 billion worth of transit projects previously announced.
Projects likely to proceed include the Union-Pearson/Georgetown GO Transit link, the Sheppard light rail transit line and the York University line, government officials said.
But the austerity moves could affect five planned projects: rapid transit lines for Finch Ave. W., Sheppard Ave. E. and the Scarborough RT, along with the Eglinton Ave. cross-town line and an expansion of York region’s Viva service.
Delays in transit expansion mean delays in creating “thousands” of well-paying jobs in construction, manufacturing and engineering, Miller said, his voice rising in anger.
The move also threatens preparations for the 2015 Pan Am Games, the mayor said, noting that he and McGuinty promised Pan Am officials that the new transit lines would be ready to move athletes, officials and spectators.
Toronto mayoral candidates expressed mixed views. Like Miller, candidate and city councillor Joe Pantalone called the announced delays “shockingly horrible.”
“It makes no sense whatsoever,” he said. “The OECD (Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) said last year we’re losing $3.2 billion a year because of congestion.
“You can’t be productive if you’re stuck in traffic,” Pantalone said.
Former McGuinty cabinet minister George Smitherman said the delays give the city needed breathing space to implement the expansion plans, avoiding “the disastrous approach we saw” on the St. Clair Ave. streetcar renovations.
“That said, I fought for (the so-called Transit City proposals) when I was at Queen’s Park,” Smitherman said, “and as mayor I’ll insist senior levels of government play their role in building the city we want.”
Candidate and city councillor Rob Ford said he never supported the Eglinton Ave. and Finch Ave. plans in the first place and would not be disappointed to see them die.
“I’m not a fan of street cars,” he said, also citing the St. Clair Ave. project, which went close to three times over its $43 million budget and took years longer to build than scheduled.
Candidate Sarah Thomson said the province’s move proves that Toronto must cast off its dependence on the province.
“This transit plan is so vital to Toronto,” said Thomson, who has proposed such measures as rush-hour highway tolls to fund transit expansion. “It’s our long-term strategy for economic growth.”
The solution, said Toronto mayoral candidate and city councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, is to let Ontario take over Toronto-area city transit entirely.
“It should be one transit system for the GTA and not a number of them,” he said.
Candidate Rocco Rossi said the city needs the province as a transit partner and “we also need an assurance that the billions in promised support will materialize.”
Going slower is just another “Never Never plan,” said TTC Chair Adam Giambrone, who has pulled out of the mayoral race.
“In five years, you kill projects,” he said, adding that the province has lost the credibility it gained when it touted an unprecedented North American transit expansion for all the right social, environmental and economic reasons.
The city’s most economically vulnerable neighbourhoods will likely be most affected if the Finch LRT and Scarborough Rapid Transit lines are cut or delayed, the TTC chair said. “People in Scarborough spend three hours commuting each day.”
Transit blogger and long-time transit advocate Steve Munro said the $4 billion cut essentially kills half the Toronto transit expansion.
“Are we killing these projects or are we completely rethinking the commitment to transit?” he asked rhetorically.
Thursday’s budget also drives a stake through the Yonge subway expansion to Richmond Hill for now, Munro said.
“Premier McGuinty brought real hope to Torontonians when he announced Transit City funding,” said Jamie Kirkpatrick of the Toronto Environmental Alliance. “Now, he’s killed this hope and doomed Torontonians to dirty air.”