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Leaked Ontario Line document has councillors and MPPs demanding less secrecy over Ontario’s transit planning
July 24, 2019
Ben Spurr

The official opposition and Toronto city councillors are calling for greater transparency in the provincial government’s transit planning process, after a leaked document revealed Premier Doug Ford’s proposed Ontario Line would follow a different route than the relief line subway the TTC and city have been studying for years.

In a statement released Tuesday, Ontario NDP transit critic Jessica Bell (University-Rosedale) called on the Ford government to “immediately” release its “secret subway plans.”

“Not just the lines he drew on a piece of paper for a media event -- actual planning documents,” she said.

“Ontarians deserve so much better than hearing about their government’s plans for their future through leaked documents in the media. They deserve a government that works collaboratively with other levels of government to get transit built.”

The Ontario Line is the centrepiece of the $28.5-billion transit expansion plan Premier Ford unveiled in April. The province pitched the project, which it estimated to cost $10.9 billion, as an enhanced version of the relief line subway, which would provide a second rapid transit route into the downtown core and take pressure off the TTC’s Line 1.

Early maps of the Ontario Line the province made public suggested it would closely follow the 7.4-kilometre relief line route for its central section, but be roughly twice as long, extending 15.5 kilometres between the Ontario Science Centre and a point north of Ontario Place.

But as reported Monday, a confidential Metrolinx planning document obtained by the Star shows the Ontario Line would follow the relief line path for less than three kilometres.

The document is a summary of an important early planning document for the Ontario Line called an initial business case. Last week a spokesperson for Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney refused to confirm whether the initial business case had been completed.

However, after the Star obtained the summary and began asking the ministry questions about it, Mulroney announced on Twitter Monday the study was done and had been delivered to Toronto officials. She said the document would be made public “soon.”

Spokespersons for both the minister and Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency for the GTHA, refused to say Tuesday when the initial business case would be made public, or answer other specific questions about the Ontario Line.

Councillor Mike Colle (Ward 8, Eglinton-Lawrence) said he was “flabbergasted” to hear about the new Ontario Line route through the media instead of official channels. He warned the change could mean it will take longer to get new transit built.

“I’m saying wow, this means more delay. I said, we should have perhaps been given some kind of head’s up,” Colle said, suggesting councillors should call a special meeting to address the issue.

“We want to be dealing with this right now, because we cannot afford another plan, another delay.”

The Star only recently obtained a summary of the Ontario Line initial business case. But Metrolinx shared a copy of the summary with municipal and TTC officials earlier this month, and provided the completed initial business case to the city on Friday.

City spokesperson Brad Ross said Tuesday staff are unable to share the business case with the public or council members because the information is covered by the confidentiality provisions in the terms of reference the city and provincial governments agreed to in February as part of talks over Queen’s Park’s plans to take ownership of the TTC subway network.

“This is the province’s document and if they wish to brief councillors on the specifics, that is for them to do,” said Ross in a statement.

He said city and TTC staff’s role is to assess the province’s plans and make recommendations to council. They’re expected to report back in October.

Councillor Gord Perks (Ward 4, Parkdale-High Park), said the secrecy around the Ontario Line is why he and other councillors raised objections about agreeing to subway upload talks with the province.

“One of the things we were critical of from the beginning is that our staff had to agree to keep information the province felt was confidential away from the public and council. That’s deeply problematic,” he said.

Speaking to reporters at an unrelated event Tuesday morning, Mayor John Tory said he hadn’t personally seen the Ontario Line initial business case.

He said he would wait to get city and TTC staff’s recommendation before voicing his opinion about the plan, but he was “optimistic” the province had found a way to build the Ontario Line faster and at less cost than the relief line.

“The initial business case I’m told says it will serve more people, it can get done faster, it can get done cheaper. So I’m very interested in reading something like that because obviously if it gets done faster and cheaper and moves more people, it sounds good,” he said, stressing that he wouldn’t support any plan that delayed delivery of new transit.

Later in the day the mayor’s office released a statement saying Tory had an “introductory meeting” with Minister Mulroney and Associate Transportation Minister Kinga Surma on Tuesday afternoon.

The statement said the meeting was previously scheduled but “in the wake of reports around the province’s Ontario Line plans, the mayor also stressed that any proposal to replace the relief line plan must stand up to scrutiny of professional city and TTC staff.”

Instead of following the Queen St. East-Eastern Ave. corridor planned for the relief line, the new plan for the Ontario Line shows that as it ran from west to east it would dip sharply south from a point at Queen and Sherbourne Sts. and then run northeast above ground through the Lakeshore East GO corridor over the Don River until a planned station at Gerrard and Carlaw Aves. From there it would continue north underground and follow the proposed path of the relief line to Pape station on Line 2.

Building a significant section of the line above ground through the GO corridor could allow Metrolinx to construct the project faster and at less cost, but changing the route could require abandoning planning work the city and TTC have already done on the relief line.

The province had said it would use as much of that planning as possible to expedite construction of the Ontario Line, which it says will open by 2027, at least two years sooner than the planned completion of the relief line.

City and TTC staff had spent three years designing the relief line, and construction for early works on the project was scheduled to start as soon as next year. Metrolinx estimates its cost at between $6.2 billion and $7.5 billion.

TTC spokesperson Stuart Green couldn’t immediately say Tuesday how much money the transit agency and city had spent planning the relief line. An earlier estimate the TTC provided put the cost at $21.8 million as of February.