Toronto city council sticks with subway, rejects Scarborough LRT
Staff will proceed with planning a one-stop subway in Scarborough after council rejected the motion to revive a seven-stop LRT.
July 13, 2016
By Jennifer Pagliaro
City council has endorsed moving ahead with a one-stop subway extension in Scarborough, rejecting a push to revive a seven-stop LRT as part of a light-rail network that could serve more residents for less money.
The vote Wednesday was a conclusive win for Mayor John Tory, who has adamantly backed the need for subway connection to the Scarborough Town Centre he promised to build during the election. It also effectively killed the original seven-stop LRT that would have been fully funded by the province.
But the decision means Scarborough residents risk getting fewer transit stops than they currently have with the aging SRT, which needs to be replaced. A second, 17-stop LRT which Tory also committed to build along Eglinton Ave E. is at least $1.3 billion short on available funding, with the subway’s $3.2-billion cost still set to increase.
“I believe this vote should represent the concluding words of the Scarborough subway versus LRT chapter,” Tory told reporters at city hall after the vote. “There are lots of things to be sorted out, lots of work to be done. But I think on that polarizing question that’s come back and come back and come back . . . I believe the council has spoken very decisively.”
Councillor Josh Matlow, who asked council to choose instead to build two LRT lines rather than spend most of the available funding on a single subway stop, said council let those who need access to transit down.
“I think today’s decision was the wrong one for Scarborough residents. They’re now going to receive one stop rather than a network of 24 stations across Scarborough connecting more neighbourhoods and more people with a better use of tax dollars,” he told the Star after the vote.
“Leadership in my opinion isn’t about promising everyone everything they want, it’s about taking action on doing the right thing for as many people as possible while being thoughtful with tax dollars. I don’t believe this one-stop subway does that.”
After years of political rhetoric over what kind of transit Scarborough deserves - that has carried forward from last term under the late Rob Ford and his fixation on building “subways, subways, subways” - sparring at city hall intensified in recent weeks.
It saw Tory and his hand-picked executive members looking to discredit the feasibility of returning to the seven-stop LRT, arguing it would now cost almost as much as the subway.
Those subway advocates suggested the LRT option would cost $3 billion, a figure presented in a TTC briefing note circulated last week. However, that figure includes costs that the province would have covered under a still-signed agreement with the city - including tearing down the old SRT.
Another LRT cost estimate, $2.7 billion, didn’t include those costs, and was based on an earlier, higher cost that was revised in 2013. What’s more, that $2.7-billion figure assumed a construction delay that appears to have been debunked under questioning of staff on Wednesday.
TTC earlier said there would be a delay in starting construction of the seven-stop LRT because crews would have to wait until work on the Eglinton Crosstown LRT was finished at Kennedy station.
But when questioned by Matlow on Wednesday, TTC staff said there was no reason construction of the LRT could not start at the other end, on Sheppard Ave. TTC CEO Andy Byford also said they chose the LRT construction timeline to make direct comparison to the subway’s construction timeline, in which work was estimated to be completed in 2025.
A cost estimate for the LRT with those concerns considered was not provided at council on Wednesday.
Matlow argued the LRT could still be fully funded, without the delay, under the province’s original commitment in 2010 of $1.48 billion - a commitment which inflation has increased to $1.99 billion. With $910 million committed from city funds and $660 million from the federal government, Matlow asked council to use the savings to substantially fund the estimated $1.7-billion Eglinton Ave. E. LRT. The request failed in a 27-16 vote.
In a separate attempt to keep the LRT option on the table, Councillor Gord Perks asked that staff continue to consider that option alongside further analysis of the subway, to provide an actual “apples-to-apples” comparison council has never been given. That motion also failed 27-16.
The cost of the subway is now expected to increase beyond $3.2 billion, based on Wednesday’s debate and vote. Staff told council that number does not include a roughly estimated $200 million in construction financing; the estimate is also based on a timeline that is no longer achievable.
A staff report said the cost was conditional on council approving an alignment for the one-stop subway on Wednesday. Council did not do that.
Council agreed to further study alignments and associated costs, which will take an unknown amount of time to complete. Byford said Wednesday that every month that subway construction is delayed, inflationary costs increase by $13 million. (The city must also now pay $15 billion in maintenance costs for the subway line over a 60-year lifespan; equivalent costs would have been paid for by the province with the LRT.)
As voting neared after a daylong debate, Tory’s allies urged council to back the subway plan.
“We have to move on, we cannot keep picking the scab,” said TTC chair Councillor Josh Colle, arguing the subway could end up costing less than the seven-stop LRT.
Scarborough Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, who has championed a subway since mid-2013, said those who chose not to support it were denying the suburbs their fair share.
“If you want to help us, if you want to let us into the family, please vote in support of the subway,” he said. “I’m simply asking people support investment in Scarborough the same as you invested up to York University and up to Vaughan.”
Though Tory rejected the idea that the subway should be built to Scarborough just because it’s what others have, in an apparent attempt to secure votes, the mayor backed a series of successful motions from rookie councillors looking to build projects in their own wards.
That includes staff now looking at an extension of the Sheppard subway at the request of Scarborough Councillor Jim Karygiannis - a project that council and an expert panel previously rejected in favour of an LRT. It also included a request from Etobicoke Councillor Justin Di Ciano to look at extending the Bloor-Danforth line from Kipling station to Sherway Gardens.
COUNCIL’S TRANSIT PROJECTS SET IN MOTION
City council set the stage for 15 years of transit planning on Wednesday with a string of votes that advanced billions of dollars worth of transit projects. Here’s what they approved:
Council approved a plan that would include up to six new stations branded as SmartTrack - at Finch, Lawrence, Gerrard, and the Unilever site on the Stouffville/Lakeshore East GO corridor; and at Liberty Village and St. Clair West on the Kitchener GO corridor. All stations would be part of Metrolinx’s larger regional express rail project that would convert GO lines to carry faster, more local service.
Councillors also voted to continue design work on a westward extension of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT that would have up to 15 stops between Mt. Dennis and the airport. The line replaces what Mayor John Tory originally proposed as western heavy rail spur of SmartTrack.
Cost: Up to $1.1 billion for SmartTrack and $2.1 billion for the LRT
Relief subway line
Council voted to give conditional approval to the staff-recommended 7.5-km alignment that would connect the Bloor-Danforth line at its Pape station to downtown via Pape Ave., Eastern Ave., and Queen St.
But they also approved a request, prompted by Pape residents who are concerned about subway disruptions, to ask for a study of a route that would run further west, closer to Carlaw. City staff have already studied and rejected a Carlaw alignment, and warned that the new study would cost $520,000 and delay progress on the relief line by six months.
Councillors also voted to authorize the city to work with Metrolinx on the studying the second phase of the relief line, which would extend north of Bloor towards Sheppard.
Cost: $6.8 billion
Council voted to go ahead with a one-stop extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway to Scarborough Town Centre, as well as an extension of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT that would have up to 17 stops and terminate at the U of T Scarborough Campus. Currently only the one-stop subway extension is funded.
A motion from Councillor Josh Matlow to revive the Transit City-era 7-stop LRT was voted down 27 to 16. Matlow had argued the $3.6 billion in available funding could fund both LRT lines and give Scarborough 24 transit stops.
Cost: $3.2 billion for the subway extension, and up to $1.7 billion for the LRT.
Councillor Jim Karygiannis moved a motion that was passed 24-19 to ask for a report on potential alignments for an extension of the Sheppard subway, from Don Mills and connecting to the Bloor-Danforth line. Metrolinx is currently planning to build a $1 billion LRT along Sheppard at no cost to the city, but the project has been delayed until at least 2021. Wednesday’s motion, which Mayor Tory voted for, reopens the contentious Sheppard subway debate that appeared settled in 2012 when council revolted against then-mayor Rob Ford and voted for an LRT.
Pet subway lines
In addition the Sheppard line, Councillor Justin Di Ciano moved a motion asking for a study of an extension of the Bloor-Danforth line from Kipling to Sherway Gardens, and James Pasternak asked to examine a Sheppard West subway from Yonge to Downsview station. Planning and transit staff haven’t identified either project as a priority. Both motions passed, with Mayor Tory voting in favour.