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A new transit plan for Toronto?

Most local media reported today that several members of Toronto City Council, including Councillor Karen Stintz, the chair of the Toronto Transit Commission, are putting together a new plan for rapid transit in the city.

As the Toronto Star reports, the new transit proposal “could kick-start construction on three new transit lines”, using funds that the province of Ontario has already committed for building rapid transit in Toronto.

According to the National Post, “Among the ideas councillors from across the political spectrum are discussing is a plan to keep a core section of the midtown [Eglinton-Scarborough-Crosstown] line underground, but bring the tracks to the surface east of Brentcliffe Road… Any changes would only happen if Metrolinx, the regional transit agency that is building the [line], agrees and Metrolinx has said it wants the city to settle on one position.”

But, as the Post’s Natalie Alcoba writes, “an official from the Mayor’s office suggested he is not interested in relinquishing ground on his LRT stance. ‘We’re happy with the Metrolinx plan that they’re working on now,’ said Mark Towhey, the Mayor’s policy director. ‘Residents don’t want trains running down the middle of the street.’”

Star reporters Tess Kalinowski and David Rider explain that “The plan would provide transit to tens of thousands more TTC riders” than the current plan that resulted from an “understanding” between Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Mayor Rob Ford.”

Instead of allocating $8.2 billion in provincial funds to tunnel the entire length of the Eglinton light rail line, the line would run above-ground east of Laird Drive, freeing up between $1.5 billion and $2 billion for other projects.

Metrolinx and the TTC could then apply the savings to building a bus rapid transit line on Finch Avenue, until such time as they have money to install light rail there.

With more funds available, the new plan could also help launch Mayor Rob Ford’s plan for extending the Sheppard subway by paying new stations at Consumers Road and Victoria Park Avenue. That would cost about $1 billion, including the cost of building the stations.

Ford could then use whatever private funding he raises to push the subway east to the Scarborough Civic Centre and west to Downsview station, as he originally hoped.

The Star says that Stintz believes she has a majority of councillors on-side if the proposal goes to a vote at City Council in February or March. If the province were agreeable, work on all three lines could begin immediately, she said.

The mayor has been steadfast in his commitment to keep all rail transit vehicles off Toronto roads. His first act of office was to declare the Transit City surface LRT plan dead. But the latest proposal offers the prospect of tunneling machines pointing east on Sheppard before the end of his term.

Ford wants to extend the Sheppard subway from the current Don Mills terminus to the Scarborough Civic Centre. But under the agreement with the province, the city would be responsible for raising the entire cost, estimated at about $4.7 billion.

You can view the Toronto Star’s map of the proposal here.