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Transit City is over: Ford

New mayor wants TTC to focus on subway construction

by David Nickle

Transit City - former Mayor David Miller’s vision of a light rail network that would link up Scarborough, North York and Etobicoke - is finished.

That was the blunt message delivered by Mayor Rob Ford, at his first news conference as mayor the afternoon of Wednesday, Dec. 1.

“Transit City is over, ladies and gentlemen,” Ford told a packed room full of reporters and cameras.

“Now the task is to develop a plan to move forward on subway construction. I expect the TTC will report back on options by the beginning of January.”

Ford made the statement just hours after an early-morning meeting with Chief General Manager of the Toronto Transit Commission, Gary Webster.

Ford had campaigned on a plan to nix the Transit City plan, and instead build two subway lines through Scarboruogh - one, along Sheppard Avenue, and another replacing the aging Scarborough Rapid Transit line that connects Kennedy Station to the Scarborough Town Centre.

Rumors earlier in the week suggested Ford was going to instruct Webster to cease all work on Transit City lines - particularly, on the Sheppard LRT, which is currently under construction in Scarborough.

But the 90-minute meeting didn’t result in that order - which Ford would not have legally been able to enforce in any event.

Instead, Webster agreed to come up with a report that would look at options for providing underground transit service.

In a teleconference Wednesday afternoon, Webster said those options will likely include the cost of simply burying the existing Transit City lines along Sheppard and Eglinton.

“The mayor clearly refers to his plan as a subway plan, but the mayor’s sensitivity is operating LRT on the surface,” said Webster. “So we did have discussions about running the LRT underground and he seems receptive to that.”

Webster said that the cost differential between building a full-sized subway and an underground LRT would be marginal. Stations along the route could be smaller because of the shorter light rail vehicles, and those vehicles can also climb steeper grades, so tunneling would be less expensive.

But it would be closer to the $300 million a kilometre it costs to build a subway than the $75 million a kilometre it costs to build light rail track on the surface.

Webster said he would report out on the cost of simply completing the remainder of Transit City as full-scale subway and as underground LRT, as well as simply building the two lines Ford promised on the campaign.

In the meantime, work will continue on the grade separation at the Agincourt GO station - because, Webster said, that work needs to be done whether there’s to be a subway or light rail.

And there remains a question as to where Ford and the city will find the money to pay for subways.

Premier Dalton McGuinty and Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne have indicated that while the province will listen to the city, there’s no additional funding for subways in Toronto. And changing gears on the plan will mean other delays. Webster said subways will require new, full environmental assessments - which can take up to a year to complete.

Ford will also be facing some opposition on council.

Ward 31 (Beaches-East York) Councillor Janet Davis said Ford can’t make a call like this on his own.

“The mayor does not have the unilateral right to declare an end to Transit City,” she said. “This is an important, fundamental project of city building that requires city council approval. There are implications on the cost, the timeline. Will we have no new transit for the Pan Am Games? What are the impacts on the delay as a result of making this decision on our communities?”