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Editorial: Move forward on transit plan

A decade and a half ago, then premier Mike Harris killed Toronto’s ambitious transit expansion plans, except for the Sheppard Ave. subway. Transit in Toronto has been treading water ever since and traffic jams have been worsening.

In an attempt to get Toronto transit back on track, Premier Dalton McGuinty and Mayor David Miller last year jointly announced support for a plan that would see the construction of three crosstown LRT lines — on Finch, Eglinton and Sheppard Aves. — plus a replacement for the Scarborough RT. The province committed $8.15 billion to the plan, known as Transit City. It seemed a done deal.

Now, however, Transit City seems headed off the rails — thanks, in part, to the provincial budget last March, which deferred $4 billion in funding for the plan. Miller called that decision “disgraceful” and launched an ad campaign against it.

Since the budget, there have been backroom talks between the TTC, the province and Metrolinx, the provincial funding agency for transit projects. From those talks has emerged a compromise that would see much of the original Transit City plan completed within 10 years (instead of eight). That proposal will go to the Metrolinx board on Wednesday. Once it is approved, Metrolinx can begin implementation, including the purchase of tunnelling equipment for the Eglinton LRT.

But Miller is still offside. He has called the revised plan “a violation of all the people who need transit the most.”

One can sympathize with Miller, who is frustrated by the delays in Transit City. But one can also sympathize with McGuinty, whose government is putting up all the money for the plan, except for one small portion ($330 million) coming from Ottawa. McGuinty is also trying to cope with a $20 billion deficit and concerns about the province’s debt in the financial markets.

Legally, Metrolinx and the province could start up Transit City on their own. But politically, it would be difficult to proceed while the mayor is tossing bricks from the sidelines. And practically, Metrolinx needs the co-operation of the TTC.

The province could, of course, choose to wait until Miller’s term expires at the end of this year. But there is no guarantee a new mayor will be easier to deal with. Indeed, some mayoral candidates have suggested scrapping Transit City and going back to square one. By the time a new plan is ready, McGuinty might be replaced as premier by Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, a Harris acolyte.

For the city, there is also a risk that the McGuinty government will take some of the money allocated for Transit City and spread it around to more willing recipients in Hamilton and Mississauga.

The better option is to go forward with Transit City now. That likely means Miller will have to climb down from his position, and McGuinty will have to provide a face-saver for the mayor.

Longer term, transit needs a dedicated source of funding — be it road tolls, gasoline taxes or some other levy — so that it is not subject to the whims of the government of the day.




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