A compromise is in the works to relieve Toronto’s transit headache for the new Eglinton light rail line and fulfill the mayor’s election pledge for a Sheppard subway extension.
A group of Toronto city councillors that includes TTC chair Karen Stintz is proposing that the eastern leg of the new Eglinton Crosstown line run at street level as first planned with the money that saves used to extend the Sheppard subway two stops to Victoria Park. The proposal also would use some of the money to improve TTC service on Finch Avenue West with a dedicated transit corridor.
The change of plans would free up about $1.5-billion from the Eglinton line’s estimated $8.2-billion price tag and quell rising opposition to the notion of spending money to bury the light rail line in a part of the city where there is room for a street-level track. To work, the compromise also would require a reversal of Mayor Rob Ford’s edict that the entire Crosstown line be put underground.
John Parker, a TTC commissioner and one of about five councillors spearheading the plan, said he has never been comfortable with burying the entire Eglinton LRT – a deal the mayor struck with the province at the same time he agreed to find other sources of funding for his subway expansion.
“It is a proposal only a bunch of politicians would come up with,” he said. “Those of us on council who are watching are wondering how we can extract everyone from this predicament and how we can put taxpayers dollars to the best use possible.”
News of this latest compromise crafted by councillors comes at a time when many are beginning to question the mayor’s ability to get his agenda through council. Last week, a coalition of councillors, led by four moderates, made changes to the city’s budget that spared about $19-million in services.
Councillor Stintz, who made headlines earlier this week by backing the street-level option for Eglinton, said she is working with the mayor’s office on this latest plan.
But Mayor Ford is remaining mum on the issue, leaving a meeting Tuesday without talking to reporters and refusing Monday to answer questions on the Crosstown line.
Councillor Stintz said the push for a consensus on the city’s transit plan is still in its early stages and does not represent a break with the mayor.
“The mayor is committed to the expansion of Sheppard. We are aligned on that position,” she said. “We are exploring options and one of those options may be to not bury Eglinton where it does not need to be buried.”
Councillor Stintz said she and others are working on a plan that would gain the support of councillors, the mayor and the province.
Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency building the new line, has indicated that it is willing to discuss a change of direction that is supported by council, she said. “I think everything I have heard from Metrolinx is that if there is a consensus on council and the support of the mayor, we could create a win for all parties and they would certainly be interested in supporting that initiative.”
“We have $8.2 billion,” Councillor Stintz said. “I think the goals are to extend Sheppard and make sure we are building transit in areas of the city that currently don’t have it. Any plan that does that I think will be supportable by council.”
Others involved in the discussions say there is work to be done before a proposal makes it to the council floor, given the many interests of councillors and the many wards that would be affected by a plan. “Doing the right thing requires us to travel through a jungle and a swamp,” said Councillor Joe Mihevc, a former TTC commissioner involved in the discussions.
Councillors Josh Matlow and Maria Augimeri also are working on the plan.
Councillor Parker, whose ward includes sections of the proposed Crosstown line, said it could come above ground on the western bank of the Don Valley and cross the river before going underground again. The line would stop underground at Don Mills, he said and emerge on the surface east of the Don Valley Parkway.
Extending the Sheppard line to stops at Consumers Road and Victoria Park also makes sense he said. As well as the provincial funds saved from Eglinton he said the federal government is willing to put up $333-million for the subway extension.
“It is something that we are talking about and seeking support,” he said. “ We are hoping we can emerge from the whole process with something that we can all rally behind.”