Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty says he is willing to consider changes to the Eglinton light-rail line, but only if it comes as a formal proposal from the city.
A move is in the works by a group of Toronto city councillors to create a compromise on the controversial Eglinton LRT that would be a win-win for the mayor’s office and the growing faction opposed to burying the transit line. The deal being put together by councillors, including Ford allies Karen Stintz, TTC chair, and John Parker, would see a stretch of the LRT move above ground as originally planned, with the $1.5-billion saved going toward the mayor’s pledge to extend the Sheppard subway to Victoria Park. Some of the savings would also go toward improving TTC service on Finch Avenue West.
The mayor’s office is aware of the discussions, Ms. Stintz told The Globe and Mail. “We continue to work collaboratively on a solution,” she said Wednesday. “We are having good dialogue.”
Mr. Ford – a critic of street-level rail lines – has yet to express his views on the compromise proposal. Councillor Doug Ford, his brother and close adviser, said he and the mayor are “on the same page” as the TTC chair. “What everyone is doing is thinking creative ideas,” he said.
At the same time, the councillor took exception to the idea of putting the line at street level east of the Don Valley, as proposed. Such a move, he said, would be “treating Scarborough like second-class citizens, ” creating “disruption and traffic chaos.”
“Why does the rest of the city get underground and these folks have to get stuck above ground?” he asked.
He cautioned that the province has capped the funds it is willing to commit to the Sheppard line at $650-million under the agreement it reached with the mayor last spring. He said any savings beyond that on Eglinton would go back to the province, which is struggling with its own financial difficulties.
Without a consensus at city hall, the Premier said Wednesday the province will stick to the terms of that agreement. Under that deal, the provincial transit agency Metrolinx was given the job of building the $8.2-billion line below ground with the understanding that the mayor would have to look elsewhere to fund his promised subway expansion.
“I’m not going to speculate on what one individual might be saying at this point [in]time,” Mr. McGuinty said. “If there’s a formal proposal that comes forth from the City of Toronto, obviously we would have an obligation to carefully consider that.”
The Premier said the province wants to work on the project in a “collaborative, co-operative spirit.”
“We have an arrangement. We don’t want to deviate from that arrangement unless there is some kind of a formal proposal that we receive,” he said.
Metrolinx chair Robert Prichard said such a proposal would need the backing of council, the mayor and the TTC. “We are very happy with the course we are on, but we are partners,” he said. “If city council and the mayor and the TTC all together come forward with a proposal to make an adjustment, we will have to consider it carefully.”
Any suggested changes, he said, also would hinge on a review by Metrolinx to ensure it makes sense for transit planning and for Ontario taxpayers. Until such a review is complete, he said it is inappropriate for the agency to weigh in on the merits of any proposal. “We think the city needs to have its discussion and debate,” he said. “That’s the time for us to analyze it, consider it and share our views publically.”