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Ford, TTC chair to talk Transit City Wednesday morning

Replacing LRT with Scarborough subway, key part of Ford’s campaign

by David Nickle

Senior staff at the Toronto Transit Commission will be meeting with Mayor Rob Ford Wednesday, Dec. 1, morning - in a meeting that is anticipated to include demands by the newly-sworn-in mayor to stop work on the Sheppard LRT line and any other Transit City LRT work.

According to sources, Ford’s incoming administration has signaled both the provincial government and Metrolinx that he’ll ask the TTC to put “tools down” on the project, while Ford attempts to negotiate transferring the $3.1 billion in provincial funding intended for light rail projects on Sheppard and Eglinton Avenue, to subways.

TTC spokesperson Brad Ross confirmed that Chief General Manager Gary Webster will be meeting with Ford Wednesday - but he couldn’t confirm what the meeting was about.

“It’s a private meeting between Gary and the mayor - I don’t even have a subject matter or an agenda,” said Ross. “It shouldn’t be construed as unusual that the mayor should be asking to meet with the Chief General Manager.”

Ford’s spokesperson Adrienne Batra was similarly tight-lipped. “All I can confirm is that a meeting is taking place,” she said.

Karen Stintz, Ford’s pick for the new chair of the TTC, said she had no idea what the meeting would be about.

“I wasn’t invited to the meeting,” she said.

But during the election, Ford campaigned on a plan to shut down Transit City, and instead build two subways in Scarborough - one along Sheppard, and one connecting Kennedy Station to the Scarborough Town Centre, replacing the aging Scarborough Rapid Transit line.

Ford maintained that the city could use $3.8 billion in funding from the provincial and federal government - although he included $700 million slated to go to projects in York Region.

Stintz said it should come as no surprise that Ford would be pursuing this agenda early in his term. And she said that likely the matter would come up for discussion when the commission has its first full meeting Dec. 15.

However, Adam Giambrone, who will chair the TTC until Dec. 7 when the commission will be replaced, said shutting down the project will have potentially large cost implications.

The TTC is actually acting as a contractor on the projects, which are owned and paid for by Metrolinx.

To date, $130 million has been spent on the project and the TTC has contracted for construction and for tunnel boring machines - while Metrolinx has put in an order with Bombardier for the new light rail vehicles.

The TTC - or the province - could well be faced with having to pay penalties on those contracts if the orders aren’t filled.

And Giambrone pointed out that any subway construction in Scarborough is going to be a long time coming.

“If you started a subway project on December 15, you are 10 years minimum even if funding is secured on day one,” he said. “You’d have to go through a full environmental assessment, and then start designing - and do engineering, all at the same time. You’re looking at a long process - basically three terms of council. The mayor would have to serve a term, be re-elected and be further re-elected to a third term before he was able to open a subway line.”

Bruce McQuaig, Metrolinx’ CEO, said as far as he’s been informed, Metrolinx has a total of $8.15 billion for projects around the Greater Toronto Area - and that’s it.

“There’s no additional funding from the province,” he said. “They’ve committed $8.15 billion and if there were changes and that change increased the budget, there would be no money.”

He wouldn’t speculate as to what would happen if the TTC simply backed out of the project.

“The bottom line is we need a strong partnership with Toronto and the TTC,” he said. “To deliver new projects in the city we want to make sure we have a collaborative approach. If we don’t have that it’s going to be difficult to deliver any project.”

Kelly Baker, spokesperson for Ontario Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne, said the minister is taking a wait-and-see approach before commenting on the matter.

“We’ll have to see what happens on the first day of the mayor-elect’s job tomorrow,” she said.

“We have committed to work together with Toronto and transit projects, that is what we see the priority is for the city - but the city has to have an important discussion about this, what the potential costs are and where they want to see things happen.”

Ward 33 Councillor Shelley Carroll represents the area around the Don Mills subway station, where the Sheppard LRT would connect with the Sheppard subway. She said while many of her constituents voted for Ford, she didn’t think there was widespread support for stopping light rail.

“From the results, many people who supported me for councillor also wanted change,” said Carroll, who was one of Mayor David Miller’s closest lieutenants. “But when we talked specifically about the Sheppard line, many said they were voting for Ford in spite of some of the things he was saying. While they understood that he wanted to look at Transit City, nobody anticipated he would stop work right away.”