The Ontario government is dangling the prospect of a new transit line across the top of Toronto and another connecting downtown to Pearson airport, and a long list of highway widenings, as part of a pre-election transportation plan unveiled on Thursday.
The package of ideas includes previously announced initiatives and adds a number of new ones to arrive at a price tag of $82-billion, although that doesn’t include the full cost of some of the projects. Partial funding for the multidecade plan is likely to be sought from the federal government.
“We’re on a mission to build a stronger, more resilient and more connected province,” Premier Doug Ford said at an announcement north of Toronto.
“We’re not just building for today, we’re building for the next 50 to 100 years. We’re building for the next generation. We owe it to our kids and our grandkids to make the decisions now that would benefit them tomorrow.”
Mr. Ford, who faces voters in early June, spoke beside a large sign touting the spot as a “Future site of Highway 413.” This proposed expansion and one known as the Bradford Bypass are the two major new highways, both previously announced, in the plan.
The two projects have been criticized by environmental groups and urban activists as paving greenspace and spurring an increase in driving and sprawl. And particular concern has been raised about harm to the already threatened ecological health of Lake Simcoe by additional road salt runoff and increases in other pollutants that could come from the Bradford Bypass.
The new transportation plan also includes a dotted-line “conceptual” route for another highway that could also affect the lake. This idea, which has been shelved for decades, would connect to the Bradford Bypass and extend Highway 404 north and then have it curl eastward along Simcoe’s shore.
This would put the lake at even more risk, said Margaret Prophet, the executive director of the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition. “Ford’s trying to put this over as new ideas for Ontario, but really he’s just dusting off projects that other governments avoided,” she said.
Asked how the second highway could be contemplated given the threat to Lake Simcoe, Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney said the government was conducting new studies on the potential effect of the Bradford Bypass, and that it would follow environmental rules.
The full plan includes 15 highway widenings and seven “new planned and conceptual corridors.” The plan does not commit to tolling any of these roads, but neither does it commit not to do so.
The bulk of the $82-billion would be spent on transit, much of it already in the works. The plan sets out what it calls “a path to transform the regional transit system from today’s radial network with most connections centred on Union Station and downtown Toronto, to an expansive grid that allows people to travel across the region by transit, quickly and easily, without going through the core.”
Jonathan English, the director of policy at the Toronto Region Board of Trade, said he was glad to see the plan includes some of his group’s priorities: among them regional rail, fare integration and more frequent local transit.
“These [types of proposals] tend to focus more on big infrastructure rather than service levels,” he said. “But you know, if the vehicle doesn’t come regularly, it doesn’t matter how much infrastructure there is.”
The two big transit capital proposals in the plan that are new are also the ones for which the government had few immediate details. They are also described as “conceptual,” and have neither a price-tag nor a timeline.
One of these would connect the Ontario Line – which is currently planned to end at Exhibition Place in downtown Toronto – with the main east-west subway at Kipling station and then carry on to the airport. The route would continue to Richmond Hill and is described as a loop, suggesting it would connect ultimately with the north end of the Ontario Line, in Don Mills.
The other new line would connect Burlington and Oshawa, municipalities to the south-west and east of Toronto, across the top of the city. A government official said the early concept was for a light rail line running in large part within the Highway 407 right of way. The official was speaking to reporters in a not-for-attribution briefing.
The plan did not specify what types of vehicles might be used or what route they would follow.
NDP Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath dismissed the new plan.
“The really colourful map with all the lines on it is really just another gimmick, it’s another Ford election gimmick,” she said.
“I think people need to realize that this government hasn’t even spent the money that they had budgeted already for transit projects and transportation projects, so there’s really no reality in the announcement today at all.”
The province heads to the polls on June 2.
Mr. Ford came to provincial office after a term on Toronto city council, during which he argued adamantly in favour of subways, picking up a banner that had been carried by his brother Rob, the former mayor. As Premier, Mr. Ford took over Toronto transit planning, uploading it to the province and replacing long-standing plans with his own approach.
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