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Smitherman unveils his grand TTC plan

Mayoral candidate promises to build new subways
in Etobicoke and Scarborough

By David Nickle

Mayoral candidate George Smitherman is promising new subways in Scarborough and Etobicoke and an earlier completion date for the Spadina extension through North York, free TTC rides for seniors in the middle of weekdays and fully separated bike lanes along existing routes.

The massive, decade-long plan, that Smitherman unveiled at a packed fundraising lunch at the Metro Convention Centre Friday, May 28, would cost $17.5 billion - about $7 billion over and above what the city is already spending on transit. He plans to raise that money at least in part by effectively issuing new debt, through public-private “design build” partnerships in which a consortium would pay for and build the infrastructure up front, and the city would cover the cost over time.

The plan is similar to partnerships used to build health care facilities under Smitherman’s watch as the province’s health minister.

The plan would also re-allocate federal and provincial gas tax money, Toronto Hydro and Toronto Parking Authority dividends, and development fees - money that currently is allocated elsewhere in the city’s budget.

Smitherman was unapologetic about the big-spending plan.

“You can’t shrink your way to greatness,” he said. “We are in the last gasp, living out a circumstance on an infrastructure built when I was a little bitty baby. It’s time to take bold steps forward, to get the city moving again, because the economic cost will be far greater than debt servicing costs.”

Smitherman’s transportation plan encompasses a range of areas. Public transit is the biggest ticket, with about 20 kilometres of new subways planned and changes to the Transit City light rail lines. It would move forward in two five-year phases.

The first phase would be a ramp up to the Pan Am Games. He promised to expedite the Spadina Subway extension to York University so it’s ready by 2015. He would extend the Sheppard LRT east and extend it south to where the new Aquatic Centre at the University of Toronto will be set up.

He would complete the Queen’s Quay Waterfront LRT from Union Station to the Portlands, to reach the Pan Am Athletes Village.

He would champion the build of the rail link from Union Station to Pearson Airport, and make sure it was electrified rather than diesel.

He would also extend the planned Eglinton LRT tunnel further west to Weston Road, so it can service the Mount Dennis community and integrate with the new air rail link station.

The second phase, from 2015 to 2020, would see the Finch West LRT built from Finch West Station to Highway 27, so it services Humber College, Etobicoke General Hospital and the Woodbine Centre and the proposed Woodbine racetrack development.

He would extend the Sheppard subway line west from Yonge to link with the Downsview Station. The Scarborough RT would be replaced with a subway and extend past the Scarborough Town Centre. The Bloor Danforth subway line would extend west from Kipling to East Mall and from there to Sherway Gardens.

Operationally, he would make some other changes to the TTC. First and foremost, he would allow seniors to ride the TTC between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekdays, when transit vehicles are operating with excess capacity.

He pledged to introduce a dedicated fare card by 2014. And he promised to create a Rider’s Charter that would create benchmarks for service standards.

He also promised major changes to Toronto’s bike plan.

“We will take a time out on new bike lanes but we will move swiftly to ensure that current cycling routes are made safer and are better maintained,” he said. “Moving forward, we will focus on the curbing of bike lanes to create physical separation of cycling areas from drivers. We will expedite the expansion of dedicated bike paths with an emphasis on so-called ‘expressways’ through parks, ravines and hydro corridors. We will urge strict enforcement of traffic laws.”

Smitherman also promised to cut the vehicle registration tax of $60 a year. And he said he would try and minimize the headaches caused by road work, or “days of disruption” as Smitherman termed it.

He said he will impose requirements and incentives on contractors to put a premium on quickly completing any roadwork.

Smitherman’s opponents were quick to dismiss the plan as unrealistic. Toronto’s deputy mayor Joe Pantalone said the plan was meaningless - nothing more than “lines on a map because it didn’t offer up a realistic financing model.”

“He’s spending $7 billion twice - he’s using money the city’s already spending,” said Pantalone. “He says he wants to use $7 billion and he wants to use the money the city gets from the federal gas tax, the provincial gas tax, the Toronto Parking Authority and Toronto Hydro - that’s what he’s saying. Presently what he’s showing us does not make any sense. Maybe it does make financial sense to him, where the last time he worked in the public interest managing the Ministry of Health, where a billion dollars was wasted in E-health and we have nothing to show for it.”

Rocco Rossi pointed out that financing the $7 billion will actually leave taxpayers on the hook for far more.

“That $7 billion doesn’t stop at $7 billion,” he said. “The private sector wants a return on its money, so that $7 billion by the time you pay it back could be $10 billion - could be $15 billion. What is he going to cut? It’s absolute nonsense - there’s no credibility to his plan. There is seven times E-health looming.”

Rob Ford, on the other hand, said Smitherman’s plan doesn’t go far enough. Ford supports a subway-only expansion plan using public private partnerships.

“George’s proposal simply won’t get the job done,” said Ford in a news release. “Streetcars don’t move enough people, they clog up traffic, and they’re still slow. It looks like he wants to turn the whole city into St. Clair Avenue, and we know quite well that will make gridlock worse. George will get Toronto moving even slower. Toronto needs subways, not streetcars.”