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City knew of transit plan cuts: officials

Sparring escalates

By Natalie Alcoba

The provincial government delivered a stinging rebuttal to Mayor David Miller’s relentless attacks over delayed funding for the city’s proposed light rail network, as city officials admitted they have known for months the original map could shrink.

“This is not municipal dollars,” Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne said during Question Period at Queen’s Park yesterday. “So the Mayor needs to understand, I believe, that if he can work with us, these projects can go ahead. If not, the projects are at risk.”

And later, to reporters she added: “I mean, does he want them to stop? Because undermining the process can lead to that and I don’t think anybody wants that.”

The sparring reached new heights after a revised “Transit City” plan showed four routes getting 22.5 kilometres shorter and with 24 fewer stations. Mr. Miller fired off any angry letter to the provincial government on Wednesday, refusing to play ball with the “revised” schedule.

Yesterday, he told reporters: “Now we see the truth for what they’re proposing, and everybody has seen it for what it is. It’s a big massive cut, and it’s letting down the people of Toronto and as Mayor, I’m not going to stand for that, I’m going to fight back.”

He added: “We worked for over a year with them, to make sure the lines would go ahead on schedule and that some of them would be funded from the announced money, and some of them from what is called the investment strategy from 2015 and they would proceed seamlessly.”

Afterward, Stuart Green, a spokesman for the Mayor, acknowledged the city has known for months of the “option” to cut the lines short. They did not know or agree to a plan that would push the lines back, Mr. Green said.

The city is proposing to front the province $1.5-billion (which it would finance) to complete the lines on the original timeline. Mr. Green said it would cost the city $100-million in interest, which he said is half of what it would cost to service the lines with buses.

Rob Prichard, president and CEO of Metrolinx, the province’s GTA transit agency, said he sat in meetings with Mr. Miller, TTC chairman Adam Giambrone and Ms. Wynne early this year where they reached a “clear consensus” on a new map because the cost of the original plan was higher than the budget.

The changes saw Eglinton Crosstown end at Jane, instead of the airport, and cut several kilometres out of Finch and Scarborough LRTs.

He says the consensus was to phase the rest of the lines after Metrolinx tables a plan about how to fund transit expansion in the future, including possible road tolls and congestion charges. Then the budget announcement at the end of March, in which the province revealed it was “delaying” $4-billion in funding for transit expansion, changed things and “required us to revisit the starting times for the projects”, he said.

“Because [transit projects] take a long time from conception to funding to completion, they cannot be the personal fiefdom of any individual political leader, whether a mayor or a premier,” Mr. Prichard said. “We must move away from political name-calling to a focus on completing a plan to build these projects on budget as quickly as possible.”

Some city councillors agree it’s time to turn down the volume.

Scarborough Councillor Brian Ashton said the Mayor should have focused on quiet, private dealings with the province to secure capital funding “that is solidly committed,” not drag the fight to “defend his transit plan” into the open.

“They’re going to fight back and the fighting back might be so if you don’t appreciate our financial difficulty maybe we’re going to take our money somewhere else.”

Eglinton-Lawrence Councillor Karen Stintz, who was out recently campaigning with the Mayor to “Save Transit City,” said, “It is becoming evident that we’ve pushed as far as we can and we should adopt a more conciliatory tone.”

She said the city should accept the revised Metrolinx proposal. “It doesn’t mean it’s forever.”