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Toronto Toronto City Council grills TTC for update on province’s Ontario Line plans

Commuters wait to take the subway at Christie Station in Toronto on June 22, 2018. Councillors repeatedly asked TTC staff Tuesday for updates on discussions with the provincial government, pushing them for details.

Tijana Martin/The Globe and Mail

Toronto city council passed a motion Tuesday acknowledging that the city would have to come up with a plan to address transit overcrowding because no new subway lines are scheduled to open until at least 2027.

During the meeting, council discussed an update the city received earlier in the month about the province’s plans for its proposed Ontario Line – a subway line that would cross the city, originating near Ontario Place and finishing at the Ontario Science Centre. That update, missing details including the type of train technology and the location of subway stops, was the most recent episode in continuing tensions between Toronto city hall and the government of Ontario. Some councillors said the provincial government is dragging its feet, and isn’t taking the city’s input seriously.

“This is a critical situation. It looks like there’s going to be no relief in the next 10 years on the Yonge line while [the provincial government] keeps playing games with transit in Toronto,” Councillor Mike Colle said.

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Councillors repeatedly asked TTC staff Tuesday for updates on discussions with the provincial government, pushing them for details.

“We don’t know cost and we don’t know timing for their project,” TTC general counsel Brian Leck said.

Andrew Buttigieg, press secretary for the provincial Ministry of Transportation, said late Tuesday the Ontario Line is in the planning phase and a detailed business case for it will be submitted to the city at the end of June.

“We are working to get shovels in the ground as quickly as possible to deliver on our promise to build four new or expanded subway lines,” he said. “That includes our ongoing work with the city of Toronto.”

After councillors heard from city and TTC officials, a number of motions were drafted, including one recommending the city ask the provincial government to consider using their plan for the “Relief Line” as a model to save time.

The city of Toronto had initially planned and approved a Relief Line to ease stress on the current network, but in early 2019 the province took over planning of new subways from the city and modified the relief line, extending it north and west, and calling it the Ontario Line.

With no shovels yet in the ground, and a potentially long planning period still ahead, it could mean Toronto won’t see any new subway infrastructure completed for another decade. If that’s the case, existing subway lines will have to cope with a projected increase of thousands of new commuters by the middle of the 2020s.

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“The system that exists today is going to have to do the work of the next decade and so we’ve got to max it out,” Councillor Shelley Carroll said. “We’ve got to squeeze every bit of performance out of the networks we do have.”

TTC staff told city council that commuters in Scarborough – where an aging rapid transit line transports more than 30,000 people every day – may be forced out of the train and onto the bus. The line is due to shut down in 2026 and a replacement will not be ready in time.

Mr. Leck said the TTC has a plan for express bus service between Scarborough centre station and Kennedy station.

Mayor John Tory stressed he’d rather be pursuing the transit plan – including the Relief Line – that a majority of councillors approved before the province stepped in.

“But I think we have to move forward in this process,” Mr. Tory said. “I believe that it is better for us to be at this table … and continue to put our case forward as forcefully as we can and make sure we do as well as we can.

“There is a lot at stake.”

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