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Smitherman set to toss $17 billion at transit

By Don Peat

George Smitherman says when it comes to transit, the City of Toronto is off the rails and, if elected, he has a $17-billion plan to fix it.

The multibillion-dollar transportation policy, dubbed Transit Delivered, is the perceived frontrunner’s first major policy announcement since throwing his hat into the ring to replace outgoing Mayor David Miller.

With much pomp and circumstance inside the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, the former Liberal deputy premier unveiled the plan — which will cost the city $7 billion for its share — to about 1,200 people paying $250 a plate for the fundraiser lunch.

“People are sick and tired of getting nickeled and dimed at every turn, of parking machines that don’t work in the cold or subway escalators that seem permanently out of service,” Smitherman said Friday. “Why aren’t more streets freshly paved instead of littered with potholes? Why am I still using tokens? And how can it be that Toronto is actually more congested than L.A., Miami or New York City?”

Smitherman called for subway and LRT expansion, free midday TTC rides for seniors and fare smart cards by 2014.

The former Toronto Centre MPP’s subway plans include having the Spadina subway extension to York University completed for the 2015 Pan Am Games, completing the Queens Quay waterfront LRT, stretching the planned Sheppard LRT to U of T Scarborough and starting the tunnelling for the Eglinton LRT and expanding it further west to Weston Rd.

Phase 2 of Smitherman’s transit plans, set for 2015-2020, would see the Scarborough RT replaced with an at-grade subway, the Bloor-Danforth line stretched west to Sherway Gardens and a Sheppard subway line from Yonge to Downsview station.

But he didn’t just focus on the TTC.

Drivers were promised that Smitherman would hit the gas on road work, introducing a measuring system to track “days of disruption,” imposing “incentives and expectations” on those completing the work to speed repairs and reducing the vehicle registration tax.

Calling for a timeout on building bike lanes, Smitherman said he wants to ensure existing routes are safer, make an effort to separate bike lanes and build bike expressways away from roads.

“They call me Furious George,” Smitherman said. “As long as they know that I am furiously committed to a Toronto that works again.”

Smitherman vowed his transit plan would not be funded by road tolls.

Instead, he would use $10 billion in funds already committed from the federal and provincial governments along with $7 billion in city cash.

Smitherman said the city’s funding would be drawn from Toronto Parking and Toronto Hydro dividends, federal and provincial gas tax revenue and development fees, all put into a “Transit Trust.”

Public-private partnerships would build and finance the projects.

“It adds up,” Smitherman said. “And more importantly, it sets up the boldest expansion of transit we’ve seen since the 1950s. It sets up a decade of Transit Delivered.”

TTC chairman Adam Giambrone welcomed support for transit but cautioned that without viable funding new projects are “little more than lines on a map.”

The TTC is already using $500 million in provincial and federal gas tax money on repairs in the existing system.

“You can’t double spend the money,” Giambrone said.

As for giving seniors free rides, the retiring councillor said the loss in fare revenue would add to budget pressures.

“Hopefully, people make decisions on transit based on good policy,” he said. “If this is just about winning an election, then you’ve got a problem.”