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Province commits to Transit City

Letter obtained

By Kenyon Wallace

The Ontario government has committed to seeing through the completion of Transit City’s four approved light rail lines — in 10 years rather than eight — despite Premier Dalton McGuinty’s March budget annoucement that $4-billion in funding would be delayed for the next five years.

The confirmation that the approved light rail projects, in addition to York Region’s express busways, would go ahead despite warnings to the contrary by Toronto Mayor David Miller, is contained in an April 27 letter from the province to city manager Joe Pennachetti obtained by the National Post.

“Initial work by Metrolinx suggests that the four Transit City projects can reasonably be completed in 10 years, while achieving the required savings of $4-billion in the first five years,” says the letter. “The province will make Metrolinx’s Big Five transit projects a high priority in the new 10-year infrastructure plan to be launched in 2011.”

The province’s confirmation comes two weeks after Mr. Pennachetti sent a letter to the province asking for a breakdown of funding over the next five and 10 years.

But Stuart Green, a spokesman for Mr. Miller, said the province’s letter does little to convince the city that all approved Transit City lines will be completed in 10 years.

“The language in the letter talks about projects being ‘reasonably completed.’ There are no five-and 10-year time-lines. We need more certainty than that,” he said.

Mr. Miller has been on a public relations crusade over the past two weeks, denouncing the province’s $4-billion spending delay, warning that it could mean the end of several Transit City lines, and urging TTC riders through transit PA systems to contact the province to voice concerns.

He continued hammering the provincial government during a speech at the Toronto Board of Trade yesterday, arguing that the funding had been “cut” rather than delayed.

“I invite you to ask the provincial government, will they put in writing to the city of Toronto that the $4-billion that they cut out, will be in years 2015 to 2020? I’ve been asking that for three weeks, and they will not put in writing that that money is being put back in the budget,” Mr. Miller said.

Robert Pritchard, CEO of Metrolinx, the public agency tasked with planning public transportation in the GTA, was on hand to hear the Mayor’s speech. Afterwards, he said the Premier had repeatedly emphasized that Transit City’s $9.5-billion budget has not been cut.

“The only issue is to phase the building of the projects in order to be respectful of the overall budget circumstance of the province, while still putting in place these invaluable projects,” Mr. Pritchard said. “It’s important to keep those facts straight. There is no cut of the budget of these projects. There is no cutting of the projects.”

The Sheppard East LRT is already under construction and is expected to be completed by 2013. Mr. Miller said the TTC is ready to start building the Eglinton Crosstown and Finch LRT lines this year, pending notification from the province. The Eglinton line is scheduled for completion in 2016, while riders should be boarding the Finch line by 2014, he said.

The original Transit City plan for the revitalization of the Scarborough RT rapid transit line is set to begin in 2012 and be complete by 2016.

However, it’s not clear if the longer funding timeline will cause those dates to change.

Mr. Pritchard said Metrolinx would present a plan next month outlining how the agency intends to complete the approved transit lines on time and on budget.