TTC Chair Karen Stintz is warning if council rejects plans for a Scarborough subway extension, it cannot fall back on an existing deal to build light rail instead.
Toronto city council meets Tuesday for what is shaping up to be yet another fractious debate over transit. At issue is a plan to replace Scarborough’s aging rapid transit line with an extension of the Bloor Danforth subway. With $660-million in federal funding and a $1.48-billion commitment from the province, council must now decide if it is willing to increase taxes and development charges to pay for its share of the subway line – a cost that will be covered by a 30-year loan that will run upwards of $910-million.
A report by the city manager gives councillors two options – shoulder the added costs of a subway through a 1.6 per cent tax increase over three years and development charges or agree to stick with the light rail deal inked by the city last year that will be paid for entirely by the province.
The subway option has the backing of about two dozen councillors, but that support could unravel on the council floor. Mayor Rob Ford is refusing to endorse the recommended tax hike and uncertainty surrounding the extension’s final price tag could sway votes away from the subway plan.
Ms. Stintz, who helped reopen the subway debate this summer, says the city would lose credibility on the transit file if it vetoed plans for the extension after asking for provincial and federal support.
“The province has been clear. They are building a subway,” said Ms. Stintz, noting Transportation Minister Glen Murray set out his own plan without any input from the city. “There is no going back.”
Supporters of light rail think otherwise, with Councillor Shelley Carroll going so far as to say the city would be helping the Liberal government by giving it an out on a subway promise that it embraced during a by-election battle for Toronto votes.
“If you ask me, we may be doing the province a favour if we say, you may have lost your mind in a by-election fever over the summer, but we’ve looked at the cost and we are having a sober second thought,” Ms. Carroll said.
Other councillors such as Jaye Robinson and Paula Fletcher question the cost of the subway and say they don’t have enough information to make an informed choice.
The LRT option “comes for the low, low price of for free,” said Ms. Robinson, who describes herself as undecided, but is leaning toward light rail.
Ms. Fletcher said there are too many question marks around the subway option for her to support it. “We have to have very clear numbers, not just wishes,” she said. “This is turning out to be astronomically expensive for the citizens of Toronto.”
One of those question marks is whether the mayor himself will agree to the tax hike staff say is required to finance the subway plan he has championed – and whether his refusal to do so will hasten its defeat.
“A lot of people will reconsider if the mayor doesn’t back up a realistic tax increase,” said Councillor Ana Bailao, who puts herself among that camp. “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.”
Ms. Stintz expects the mayor will try to gain support for a reduced tax increase. He has said he cannot support more than 0.25 per cent in each of the next four years.
She predicts the mayor’s motion will be defeated and a transit package that includes the subway and is tied to the needed tax increase will eventually pass.