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Provincial showdown brewing over Transit City

TTC chief general manager Gary Webster will meet
with Mayor-elect Rob Ford’s team Wednesday.

By Tess Kalinowski, Transportation Reporter
and Robert Benzie, Queen’s Park Reporter

Transit officials would not confirm speculation that the meeting is about the cancellation of the Transit City light rail lines, although some downtown councillors fear that’s the only item on the agenda.

“We do not know the subject matter of tomorrow’s meeting. That is a fact,” said TTC spokesman Brad Ross.

But one city councillor, who didn’t want to be quoted, said that the meeting will almost certainly be about directing the TTC to stop work on Transit City.

Ford wants a subway on Sheppard Ave., where the first Transit City light rail line is already underway. He has said that light rail aggravates traffic congestion.

The problem is that a subway on Sheppard would likely eat all the Transit City money the province has committed to light rail on Eglinton and Premier Dalton McGuinty is warning, that while he’s happy to chat with the new mayor, there’s no more money beyond the $3.1 billion for Transit City.

“I’m not going to speculate on the outcome of any discussion that might be forthcoming between the council and our government,” McGuinty told reporters Tuesday.

“I do believe there is significant common ground — we both want to move forward with new public transit,” he said.

“I will say with respect to money that we have no more. There’s a certain amount that we have allotted for the Transit City project.”

Senior government officials confided that any additional costs from breaking existing contracts would have to come from the existing $3.1 billion in funding that has been committed to Toronto.

In an earlier meeting with TTC staff, Ford’s transition team asked what it would take to stop work on the light rail lines being funded by Metrolinx on Eglinton, the Scarborough RT route and Finch.

Because Metrolinx and the federal government are funding the Sheppard line, outgoing transit commissioners have maintained that Ford doesn’t have the authority to cancel the work.

The TTC has to take its direction from the commissioners on the transit commission, said one city councillor. The first meeting of the new commission doesn’t happen until Dec. 15.

Voters enticed by Ford’s promise of a subway should remember other cancelled transit projects, said one city councillor, including the Eglinton subway where tunneling was begun only to have the hole filled in by Premier Mike Harris’s government.

In Ottawa, a cancelled light rail project cost taxpayers about $100 million and in the end they got nothing for their money, the councillor said.