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New deal between provincial, federal governments pledges about $9-billion for Toronto transit projects

About $9-billion is being pledged for Toronto transit under a new deal between the federal and provincial governments, a sum that will allow the city to make meaningful progress if it can come up with matching funds.

The deal announced on Wednesday is a win for Toronto beyond just the scale of the promised investment. Its funding is apportioned based on ridership, meaning that the city’s heavy transit use is being recognized with money, and it allows the city to pay barely a quarter of the cost of new projects.

The downtown relief line, the subway project that is regularly described as the city’s top transit priority, would be eligible for funding, a spokesman for provincial Infrastructure Minister Bob Chiarelli confirmed after the event.

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“Today is good news for transit in Toronto and for all of our residents,” Toronto Mayor John Tory, who was out of town, said in a statement. “After years of delays and divisive debates … we are getting on with working together to build up our cities.”

Wednesday’s deal was the latest of the infrastructure agreements signed by Ottawa, following one recently inked with the Northwest Territories, and offers more detail on a funding pledge made in the 2017 federal budget.

Federal Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi promised $12-billion in mostly new funding for Ontario infrastructure over the next 10 years, about two-thirds of it for transit. At the same event, Queen’s Park promised $10-billion for infrastructure. Mr. Chiarelli’s spokesman said the “vast majority” of this was new money.

“The time to invest is now,” said Mr. Sohi, drawing a parallel with previous nation-building projects such as the trans-continental railway, the Trans-Canada highway and the St. Lawrence Seaway.

“I look forward to seeing the projects that will transform and positively impact our communities for generations to come.”

Federal funding for transit is being allocated based on ridership, with the result that Toronto is getting the biggest share of the money earmarked for Ontario. Nearly $5-billion of the federal money is dedicated to transit in Toronto with the province putting in about $4-billion more.

Surrounding municipalities and the regional transit agency Metrolinx are in line for $1.3-billion in federal transit money, plus a provincial contribution.

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The federal government specified that its funds must be supplemented by the province and municipalities. Ottawa will fund up to 40 per cent of new transit projects, with the province kicking in up to one-third and municipalities the remaining 27 per cent. Based on that formula, Toronto would have to come up with about $3.3-billion to take full advantage of the funding announced Wednesday.

A spokesman for Mr. Tory said in an e-mail that the mayor “will be working with city council and city staff to determine how to fund” Toronto’s share.

Ottawa has traditionally deferred to local politicians to decide which projects need funding. On Wednesday, Mr. Sohi reaffirmed federal support for the Scarborough subway extension, Mr. Tory’s “Smart Track” plan and preliminary work on the downtown relief line and a Yonge subway extension sought by suburban politicians.

Toronto has a long list of partly funded or wholly unfunded transit projects it wants to complete. The biggest ticket items – including the relief subway line, several light rail lines and Mr. Tory’s rail plan – total about $14-billion.

The city had hoped that Ottawa and the province would pick up 80 per cent of the cost of its transit projects, a prospect that has not been agreed to by the higher levels of government.

Ottawa has made infrastructure funding a key part of its role, with budgets early in the Liberal government’s mandate that promised to double this type of spending over 12 years. Phase 1 of its plan involved nearly $12-billion in spending over five years, money meant to plan major projects and repair existing infrastructure.

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A series of deals with the provinces and territories laying out phase 2 of this spending – totaling $33-billion in the next 10 years – is expected throughout the month.

The Toronto Transit Commission is investing in signalling upgrades that will hopefully see them able to run subway trains closer together.
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