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Toronto has 61 questions about province’s transit plans
April 17, 2019
Ben Spurr

The city has plenty of unanswered questions about the province’s new transit plan. Sixty-one to be exact.

In an unusual report released midway through a council meeting Tuesday, city and TTC staff laid out all the things they still don’t know about the Ontario government’s $28.5-billion transit proposal a week after Premier Doug Ford unveiled it.

In a report released midway through a council meeting Tuesday, city and TTC staff laid out all the things they still don’t know about the Ontario government’s $28.5-billion transit proposal a week after Premier Doug Ford unveiled it.

They include such basic queries as “who prepared the cost estimates?” “what is the province’s plan for public consultation?” and “what are the impacts on the city/TTC transit network resulting from these projects?”

Municipal officials plan to put to the list of questions to the province as part of ongoing negotiations over the Progressive Conservative government’s proposal to take ownership of Toronto’s subway network.

“I’m open to any proposal that is going to fund and build transit in this city faster, but I’m not convinced what the province has presented us with is necessarily a plan to do that,” said Councillor Brad Bradford (Ward 19, Beaches-East York).

“What we have today is 61 questions that need to be answered.”

The province has asked the city to contribute billions of dollars to its plan, which would make significant changes to projects council has already endorsed and spent years designing, including the downtown relief subway line and Scarborough subway extension.

But the list of questions underlines the extent to which the city remains in the dark about the proposal.

Read all 61 questions the city has for the province

In particular, little is known about the details of the province’s proposed replacement for the downtown relief line, which Queen’s Park has dubbed the Ontario Line, including the type of trains that would operate on it and exactly where stations would be located.

The province says it would complete the 15-kilometre, $10.9-billion project by 2027. That date is two years sooner than the earliest target for the city’s version of the relief line, and staff want to know how Queen’s Park arrived at that projection.

Councillor Gord Perks (Ward 4, Parkdale-High Park) told his colleagues he didn’t believe the government would be able to answer most of the questions because it couldn’t possibly have put enough work into the projects since being elected just last June.

Perks argued the city should “call (the province’s) bluff” and break off talks if the government wasn’t able to provide detailed responses.

“If by June they haven’t shown us that they have a legitimately costed plan, and they haven’t shown us that they have proper design ... then we walk away,” he said.

The report was published in the early afternoon on the first day of what was expected to be a two-day council meeting. Councillors took the rare step of calling a recess of about an hour to read it, but weren’t able to vote on its recommendations before they broke Tuesday evening. They’re expected to resume debate Wednesday.

The report recommends authorizing city staff to undertake an assessment of the province’s plans to determine issues like their costs, network impacts and whether they align with council’s priorities.

Council is expected to vote on whether to “consider endorsing” the province’s plan and earmarking $660 million in federal transit funding to the province’s version of the Scarborough subway extension and another $3.2 billion in federal dollars to the Ontario Line, subject to the results of the assessment.

Mayor John Tory introduced the motion to add language to merely “consider” the funding allocation, after some councillors took the original wording as a tacit endorsement of the province’s plan.

The mayor asserted he didn’t see it that way because any funding decisions would be based on an “extensive review” of the province’s plans.

“The onus now rests on them to answer why their route to be taken is better for the people of Toronto,” he said.

Tory said he remained committed to a “good-faith dialogue” with the province, despite the Progressive Conservatives’ unexpected decision last week to roll back $1.1 billion in promised gas tax funding over the next 10 years, money the TTC planned to use for system upgrades.

The mayor said he had already publicly stated he was “incredibly disappointed” with that decision, but he believes such issues are “best discussed” at the negotiating table with the province. He reiterated he wouldn’t support any agreement with Queen’s Park that would be bad for Torontonians or TTC users.

Ford intends to add two stops to the Scarborough subway project, which would transform it into a three-stop extension, raise its cost by at least $1.6 billion to $5.5 billion, and delay its completion until at least 2029, years after the Scarborough RT that it is intended to replace is expected to reach the end of its service life.

The Ontario Line would replace existing plans for the 7.4-kilometre relief line and be roughly twice as long, running between Ontario Place and the Science Centre.

The city has said it has already spent $182.5 million on planning and design work for the Scarborough extension, and $15.4 million on the relief line. The report recommends the city seek compensation from the province for the cost of any work that can’t be used if Ontario changes course on the projects.

The province has committed $11.2 billion to its $28.5-billion plan, which also includes building a western extension of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT below ground level, and an extension of the TTC’s Line 1 to Richmond Hill.

The remaining $17.3 billion would be contributed by federal and municipal governments, including York Region and Toronto, although Ford has pledged the province would pay for the entire scheme if no other funding sources materialize.