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LRT best option for Sheppard Avenue, advisory panel concludes Add to ...

An above-ground light-rail line is by far the best way to expand transit on Sheppard Avenue East, according to an advisory panel whose much-anticipated final report will be made public Friday.

“Having completed a detailed evaluation of options, the panel concluded that Light Rail Transit (LRT) is the recommended mode of transit across Sheppard Avenue East,” the report’s covering letter reads.

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“With the exception of [subway advocate Gordon]Chong, a strong consensus exists among the panel members that the LRT option is superior to the subway option(s) across the range of evaluation options considered.”

After assessing three expansion possibilities, the panel awarded a score of 87.3 to a light-rail extension from Don Mills station to Morningside, according to a source familiar with the panel’s work.

That was a much higher score than the virtual tie it gave to the other two choices, a subway to Scarborough Town Centre and a hybrid of two subway stops and a light-rail extension. The former scored 59.3; the latter scored 59.5.

The report goes beyond endorsing light-rail on Sheppard Avenue East. According to a draft of the recommendations stamped confidential and obtained by The Globe and Mail, the panel also urges council to take a serious look at new revenue tools to pay for future transit expansion, in concert with the province’s transportation authority for the Greater Toronto Area.

The document asks the “deputy city manager and chief financial office to prepare a comprehensive review of revenue tools and report back to council with appropriate recommendations to Metrolinx on an investment strategy to finance the provincial Big Move transit plan.”

The Sheppard panel has been closely watched because its pro-LRT recommendations -- though not a surprise -- are expected to influence a crucial vote next week.

Council is set to decide on March 21 whether to extend Sheppard as an LRT, or as a subway as Mayor Rob Ford favours.

Mr. Ford dismissed the panel's conclusion out-of-hand.

"The advisory panel is a biased panel. We all know that. We know what they're going to say," the mayor told reporters Thursday.

"I listen to the residents, the taxpayers, the people who pay our wages. They're the boss."

He said he took the bus out to a demonstration by Subways Are for Everyone (SAFE), in a parkette at Sheppard and Victoria Park, and "every single person" wanted subways.

"We have a billion dollars. Let's get the shovel in the ground. There is too much talking going on and not enough doing. I'm a doer."

Earlier in the day, Mr. Chong, a former councillor and Chairman of GO Transit, said he was frustrated that he is being “ignored” by his fellow panel members.

He skipped the group’s last meeting Thursday afternoon and said he intended to quit if the panel decided to axe a 23-page pro-subway appendix his researcher, Joanne Kennelly, had prepared for the panel’s final report.

“If they cut it out entirely, I’m gone,” Mr. Chong told The Globe before the meeting. “I will not sign on to that report.”

The source close to the panel said Mr. Chong’s 23-page report will be included in the appendices, which will be accessible online, along with background reports the panel received from Metrolinx, the TTC and city staff.

“He is wrong. The panel is including his 23-page opus and anything that was put before it, under appendix C. All documents of any kind that [the panel] saw can be linked to by anyone interested in reading them,” the source said.

Mr. Chong could not be reached immediately after the panel’s last meeting.

The mayor's hand-picked subway booster opted not to make an 11th-hour pitch to his fellow panelists, most of whom are on the record as supporting above-ground, light-rail transit, including University of Toronto professor Eric Miller and former mayor David Crombie.

“I spent five or six meetings arguing it and frankly, even my patience wears a little thin,” Mr. Chong said. “I don’t like being ignored and then dismissed and then having our work diluted in a way that doesn’t faithfully reflect what we were saying.”

TTC Chair Karen Stintz and her allies offered the panel as an olive branch to Mayor Rob Ford at the February meeting where they revived most of a light-rail network the mayor killed on his first day in office.

Mr. Ford rejected the compromise and the panel wound up dominated by LRT proponents.

Mr. Chong, who spent nearly a year preparing an interim report that concluded a subway is feasible on Sheppard with new revenue tools, said he knew from the outset panel wouldn’t recommend subways.

With files from Marcus Gee

Follow on Twitter: @kellygrant1

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