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Toronto Future subways for Toronto will cost more than expected, letters from the province indicate

Passengers head down the stairs to the TTC subway system at Union Station on Jan 3, 2019.

Fred Lum

The projected costs of the Scarborough subway extension and the Downtown Relief Line – the two most expensive transit projects planned for Toronto – have soared to “nearly double or greater” the estimates that have been made public, according to the province.

The escalated costs, which were denied by the city, would push the collective cost for the two projects past $20-billion. It came amid tense negotiations over the future of the city’s subway system, which the province has vowed to take over, and on the eve of city council discussions on continuing talks with the province.

The purported new costs for the two projects were referred to in a letter to senior city staff from the province’s special adviser, Michael Lindsay, on the subway system upload. The letter was dated from last week and released by the city Tuesday evening.

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This letter was followed by another from the adviser, this one dated Tuesday. The second letter walked back many of the assertions in the first one and included an acknowledgement that what the province understands to be the costs, which it said came from the city, are estimates.

The latest public estimate for the Scarborough subway project was $3.35-billion, based on preliminary work. An updated estimate is expected to come to Toronto city council next month and transit watchers have been expecting the price to balloon. The DRL, on which even less work has been done, has long been estimated at about $6.8-billion.

City spokesman Brad Ross would not reveal the coming Scarborough estimate, but said in an e-mail that “no costs have doubled.” In a statement, Mayor John Tory said he had not been briefed on the new Scarborough price “except to be told it is not significantly changed.”

The Progressive Conservatives campaigned last year on a promise to take over ownership of and expansion planning for the city’s subway system. The letters offer new details about what the province could have in mind.

Crucially, one of the province’s letters noted that the city and Queen’s Park “are not aligned on key issues” and that “this lack of alignment is likely to persist” until the province takes over. And the letter makes clear that the province’s financial support for major transit projects is dependent on Queen’s Park having “a leadership role” in the process.

City Councillor Joe Cressy, an opponent of the upload, accused the province of undermining the city’s vision for transit.

“This amounts to Ford tearing up our transit plans and going back to square one,” he said in a text message. “Which means no transit for four more years.”

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The letters showed the province is confused about what it wants to do. In the first letter, the province says it wants a three-stop subway terminating at Scarborough Town Centre (STC). In the next letter, dated four days later, it reverts to its previous public position of wanting a three-stop subway that extends beyond STC.

Among the changes the province would like to see to transit in Toronto: burying part of the light rail line proposed for Eglinton West and adding two stations to the Scarborough subway extension, both of which it has discussed before. Not raised until now is its intention to employ unspecified “alternate delivery methods” on the DRL to create a “free-standing” and “truly unique transit artery.”

A spokesman for provincial Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek did not immediately offer clarification of what that meant.

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