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Delay in funding transit not acceptable for Scarborough

Politicians weigh in on provincial budget order to phase in LRT projects

By Danielle Milley

Putting off improvements to the Scarborough Rapid Transit line is unacceptable, says a Scarborough councillor.

Scarborough Centre Councillor Michael Thompson reacted to the provincial budget released Thursday, March 25, afternoon that would see transit projects in the city phased in as part of an effort to save $4 billion over five years.

“Scarborough residents again are being treated like second-class citizens. We’re not talking about a luxury system or a new system. We’re talking about replacing a system put in place by the province that is out of date,” he said.

“What are we going to do? Jeopardize and put the safety of citizens at risk?”

The Scarborough RT line, along with the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, the Finch West LRT and Sheppard East LRT, were all given the go ahead last April when the province announced $9 billion in funding for the city’s Transit City projects.

Construction has already begun on the Sheppard East LRT line, so many believe that leaves the other three projects to vie for priority following the budget announcement. The government said it would be working with Metrolinx to phase construction of transit projects, which would result in approximately $4 billion in savings over the next five years.

The Scarborough RT is a unique project in that it is the redevelopment of the current system and an extension of the line, not the construction of a new line.

“We can wait or delay the Eglinton Crosstown, but what we are talking about with the Scarborough RT is its shelf-life is coming to an end,” Thompson said. “What then? Are we going to close our streets and plug them up with buses.”

Past discussions about the line have put 2015 as its end-of-life date for the current technology.

Scarborough MPPs believe reaction to the “phasing” of transit projects by City of Toronto politicians, including Mayor David Miller who appeared furious with the news on Thursday, has been overblown.

“We’re continuing our commitment to transit…We’re simply asking that we take a little more time in rolling out these projects,” said Scarborough-Centre MPP Brad Duguid, also the Minister of Energy and Infrastructure.

“We have to show the leadership now to invest responsibly.”

Duguid said Metrolinx, the provincial agency charged with co-ordinating transportation in the GTA and Golden Horseshoe area, will need to be made aware of the pressing issue of the Scarborough RT when it goes about, in conjunction with the TTC, making the decisions about which projects will go ahead and which will be phased.

Thompson said councillors and areas of the city will now be pitted against one another vying to keep their project at the top of the priority list.

“We’re going to have to,” he said. “We are certainly prepared to fight for Scarborough.”

Scarborough Agincourt MPP Gerry Phillips doesn’t believe the Sheppard LRT is in danger of being delayed since it is already under construction. He wants to assuage people’s fear about the other projects.

“We’re not cancelling anything,” he said. “This budget is all about jobs and a strong economy, but we need to handle people’s dollars well.”

Another deadline looming over the city is 2015 when Toronto and area municipalities will host the Pan Am Games.

“Hopefully the lines that will be impacted by Pan Am will proceed on schedule,” said Phillips.

Instead of seeing funding delayed for transit, the city is hoping to see funding to add the Scarborough Malvern LRT line to the list of current projects. Many believed the endorsement of the aquatics centre at the University of Toronto Scarborough campus in a referendum by students March 17 to 19 would move up the line on the priority list. The world-class centre is to host swimming and diving events during the Pan Am Games.

Thompson said nothing has been confirmed, but he’s heard suggestions that there will be funding for that line.

Pan-Am could not only speed up projects, but it could also delay them if a project couldn’t be completed before the games begin.

“With the Pan- and Parapan-Am Games coming in we want to see 2015 as a time to be ready,” Duiguid said. “We won’t want to see roads under construction at that time.”