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Editorial
Transit City: It's too late to switch tracks

Mayor-elect Rob Ford will soon discover, if he hasn’t already, that he’s caught in a dilemma of his own making. He campaigned on a promise to give taxpayers good value for their money and on a high-profile pledge to kill Toronto’s Transit City light rail plan. It is impossible to do both.

Attempting to switch tracks now, in favour of building new subways, would be so costly and disruptive that no responsible keeper of the city’s books would risk it.

About $130 million has already been spent on Transit City, including the cost of environmental assessments, planning and design work. Cancelling the light rail plan would be equivalent to throwing this money away. But even bigger losses loom — contracts worth about $1 billion have been signed, including a $770 million deal to buy the vehicles to run on Transit City’s tracks; a $54 million purchase of massive tunnel-boring machines, now being built, and $30 million for construction of a grade separation on the Sheppard light rail line, where work is already underway.

It’s not known what it would cost to back out of these agreements at such a late date. That would be up to lawyers to work out. What is certain is that companies signing these contracts did so in good faith and could expect considerable compensation for their efforts.

In fact, the City of Toronto would save nothing by cancelling the four Transit City lines scheduled for completion over the next decade. That’s because Toronto isn’t paying for them. Ottawa is contributing $330 million for the Sheppard line, about a third of its cost, while Queen’s Park covers the rest of the $8.15 billion bill for Sheppard, a Finch light rail line, an Eglinton crosstown route, and conversion of Scarborough’s aging rapid transit line to light rail.

That’s a pretty good deal for Toronto taxpayers. Yet Ford proposes to walk away from it. He wants Premier Dalton McGuinty to invest Ontario’s money, instead, in subways mainly serving the city’s east end. Presumably, Ford also expects the province to swallow the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars already spent. In reality, the city could hardly trigger such losses without paying a share of the penalty.

McGuinty would be most unwise to accept the changes Ford proposes, especially since Transit City isn’t envisioned as just a Toronto project. It is part of a regional plan developed by Metrolinx, the provincial agency in charge of coordinating transportation throughout the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton. It has taken years to bring that plan, including Transit City, to where it is today. Stopping now, at huge financial cost, in order to start over with subways would be the opposite of paying due respect to the taxpayer.




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