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Province to ask Metrolinx for $4B in transit savings

By Adam McDowell

David Miller’s Transit City legacy took a serious blow from one of its early proponents yesterday as the McGuinty budget outlined a request for $4-billion in savings on transit infrastructure spending over the next five years.

To meet the goal, the province will ask Metrolinx, the region’s combined transit planning authority, to postpone construction on several projects in the Transit City plan, although projects that have already begun will be allowed to proceed.

Discussions between Metrolinx and the Liberal government will determine which projects will be held up, but provincial officials acknowledged that parts of Transit City could be delayed well beyond 2020 as lines are built consecutively rather than concurrently.

“I’m beyond disappointed. The city deserves better,” the Mayor told reporters, his voice shaking. “By taking nearly half of the funding for Move Ontario 2020 out of the program, the Premier essentially is saying it’s Move Ontario Never Never. He’s saying to people in Scarborough who stand and wait for two or three buses, that have to take two or three buses to get to work, that they’ll wait another decade for the rapid transit that he promised, standing beside me and other mayors around this province.

“You can’t take nearly half the budget out of a massive project like this and pretend it’s not going to have an impact,” said Mr. Miller, who didn’t hear it from the Premier himself, rather the president of Metrolinx. “It’s disgraceful.”

Work will continue on the Sheppard LRT and the Spadina subway extension, as will improvements on the GO Georgetown corridor, which will allow for a Pearson-to-Union Station express link.

Talking to reporters yesterday, Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said planned transit lines that have been considered essential to Toronto’s plans for the 2015 Pan Am Games will also be given priority. “The ones that are key to the Pan Am Games are going to go, as I understand it, on schedule,” Mr. Duncan said at a press conference. “We’re going to work with Metrolinx to ensure those that are needed most quickly continue on, and the others are still going to continue on, just over a longer period of time.”

The response implied the eastward leg of the Harbourfront LRT will be built as planned. Infrastructure Ministry staff said $8-billion of new rail and bus line infrastructure is in various stages of planning across the GTA, so only half of it will need to be delayed. Bureaucrats mentioned four projects that could be put on hold: the Eglinton, Scarborough and Finch LRT lines in Toronto, all part of Transit City, and improvements to the VIVA bus system in York Region.

Potential Transit City lines such as Jane and Don Mills, which were further off on the horizon, looked yesterday to have moved further away still.

Mr. Duncan said the province remains committed to giving people in the GTA options over driving, and that the projects mentioned will still go ahead. The transit holdup is part of a recessionary budget, and choices needed to be made about what to fund.

“We have a deficit to be concerned about. We have schools to be concerned about,” he told reporters. “We’ve made enormous investments in a cleaner environment and we will continue to work with Metrolinx and our partners in the Greater Toronto Area to improve public transit here in the city and the region.”