To much fanfare last fall, the City of Toronto, the Toronto Transit Commission and Metrolinx, the Ontario government’s regional transit agency, formally ratified an historic $8.4-billion contract to build 52 kilometres of light-rapid-transit lines to areas long ill-served by public transit, including central Scarborough in Toronto’s east end. The contract took months to hammer out, and its approval has caused Metrolinx to begin spending millions of dollars to implement the projects.
But for reasons having mainly to do with politics at either end of the City Hall-Queen’s Park axis, the two sides on Monday were poised to crack open that legally binding contract in order to upgrade a planned LRT in Scarborough to a full extension of the city’s main east-west subway corridor.
The LRT will cost $1.8-billion, with all the funds committed. The subway will take longer to complete (many new approvals are required), have fewer stops, and will cost an extra $1-billion, at least.
It’s not clear where those additional funds would come from. A City of Toronto report released last week suggested the gap could be filled with federal infrastructure dollars, development charges and property-tax hikes of between 1.1 and 2.4 per cent over three years.
While advocates of the subway scheme – including Mayor Rob Ford, TTC chair Karen Stintz and various Liberal MPPs in Scarborough – argue that the line is justified based on existing and projected ridership, many experts disagree. In fact, TTC officials in a report last January noted that a 2006 strategic plan on Scarborough’s rapid -transit needs had recommended against a subway extension “because the all-inclusive costs…were extremely high.”
The $1.8-billion required for the LRT is a done deal. As the old saying has it, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. The leaders on either end of this politically expedient deal-making should leave well enough alone and let their officials get on with the important work of building the approved transit lines.