Ontario Transportation Minister Glen Murray says there’s room for improvements to the province’s $34-billion transit plan for the Toronto region, as he reiterated his support for it in a statement Thursday.
Already there are indications that the new flexibility at the provincial level is influencing transit thinking at Toronto City Hall.
Mr. Murray, who was appointed to the transportation file in February, told The Globe and Mail in a recent interview that he is unconvinced the planning process has been rigorous enough to be final and considers the proposed routes “placeholders.”
In a statement released by his office Thursday morning, the same day as The Globe report, Mr. Murray underlined his commitment to the province’s Big Move transit strategy, but left the door open to changes.
“Our government is moving forward with The Big Move ,” the statement says.
“As with all long-term plans, there is always room to make improvements over time in response to emerging needs and the views of communities and municipal partners.”
Cities and the province’s transit agency, Metrolinx, have spent millions of dollars and several years designing the next phase of the province’s Big Move plan – 10 big-ticket projects including Toronto’s long-awaited downtown relief line, the Yonge Street subway extension, and light-rail lines in Mississauga and Hamilton.
While it is unclear how far Mr. Murray would go, his comments point to the very issue the Big Move was intended to address – the uncertainty in long-range planning created by an ever-changing political landscape.
Toronto politicians, including TTC chair Karen Stintz, are pushing to reopen existing transit agreements with Metrolinx to order to replace the Scarborough Rapid Transit line with an extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway rather than the planned light rail.
Ms. Stintz said Thursday that she has yet to meet with the Minister of Transportation since his appointment, but has seen a shift in thinking at Queen’s Park compared with last June, when an earlier attempt to revisit the Scarborough subway issue was quickly shot down.
“It’s a different time, a different premier, a different minister and a new discussion,” Ms. Stintz said.
In recent discussions with MPPs and senior civil servants, there has been what Ms. Stintz describes as a “willingness to entertain a scope change” in the city’s existing light-rail plans under certain conditions.
Mr. Murray told The Globe and Mail that he has asked staff to further study existing plans and he would like to see changes if they would better serve the region’s transit needs.
Metrolinx officials have played down Mr. Murray’s comments, saying any changes to the plan would be minor, and a spokesman stressed that Mr. Murray is committed to the plan and is keen only on “optimizing” it.
Metrolinx officials said they are very aware that, amid a rancorous debate over dedicated funding for transit, people must be certain they know for what projects they are being asked to pay.
Mr. Murray, in his statement, said Thursday that he looks forward to Metrolinx’s recommendations for new sources of revenue to pay for transit expansion, expected to be made public at the end of the month.
“People need to know what they are paying for; they need to see where the money is going,” the statement said.
With files from Oliver Moore