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Toronto Toronto mayoral challenger Jennifer Keesmaat’s transit plan pitches fast-tracked relief line and enhanced bus service

A map of the proposed transit plan by Jennifer Keesmaat's mayoral campaign would make the downtown relief line the top priority, keep the Scarborough subway extension, make permanent the King Street transit pilot project and include light-rail transit along Jane Street.

Toronto mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat has unveiled a $50-billion transit plan that insists the city retain control over which projects get built and makes the planned downtown relief line her top priority.

The proposal is based largely on an existing transit plan that has been approved by council and does not explain how the city’s portion of the cost would be funded. It includes the controversial Scarborough subway extension, a project the province has said it is going to take over.

New elements include a light-rail line on Jane Street, enhanced bus service, possibly in transit-only lanes, on eight major roads and the removal of a station proposed for the GO rail line in Scarborough.

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“The goal is to have excellent transit across the whole city,” Ms. Keesmaat said. “A network delivers choices, meaning you can get from anywhere to anywhere in the city.”

The plan received a cautiously optimistic review from the advocacy group TTCriders.

“Enhanced bus service is music to our ears, but we didn’t hear a plan to fund it,” said the group’s executive director, Shelagh Pizey-Allen. “Candidates must commit to fairly funding the TTC so riders see lower fares and service improvements now.”

Municipal transit plans must take into account the more activist role in city transit the province has been eyeing. Ontario Premier Doug Ford has said he wants to upload Toronto’s subway network and take over planning for major transit projects. Ms. Keesmaat was unconcerned about the prospect of the province owning the city’s subway lines. But she stressed the mayor and council must approve any new projects that would be built.

The former chief planner named the relief line, connecting the subway along the Danforth with the downtown core and taking pressure off the existing lines, as her top priority. This line is currently estimated to cost $6.8-billion and projected to be ready in 2031. Ms. Keesmaat wants to advance that completion date by three years and start work by 2020.

She said details about how to pay for the transit projects will be released along with her broader fiscal plan in the coming weeks.

Her other priorities are making permanent the King Street transit pilot project, which has reduced vehicle traffic on the key transit corridor, and “unsnarling this whole mess that we see in Scarborough.”

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Ms. Keesmaat noted Mr. Ford wants to take over the Scarborough subway extension, which she argued would free up city money that could go toward extending the Crosstown LRT into Scarborough. And she said there is no need for a GO station to be built in the east end as part of what Mayor John Tory calls SmartTrack, a project for which she saved her most withering criticism.

“We got an idea, on a back of a napkin, that was made to look pretty and sold as the solution,” she said of the mayor’s transit plan, which she worked on during her tenure as city planner. “It led to chaos in terms of planners trying to figure out what to do with this plan that didn’t really make any sense.”

Mr. Tory ran in 2014 on the promise of a 53-kilometre heavy-rail line, running largely on the surface, with 22 stations. The plan has since been whittled down to a handful of stations on existing GO Transit rail lines.

At his own event on Thursday morning, Mr. Tory defended the city’s transit plan and warned that “fiddling” with it would restart endless council debates and prevent progress. His campaign also put out a statement arguing that Ms. Keesmaat had the chance, while on staff, to raise the concerns she is voicing now.

However, Ms. Keesmaat countered that bureaucratic rules limited her ability to criticize the plan, noting that she was formally instructed by council to implement SmartTrack.

“When I was directed to do something, I had to do it. That’s my job,” she said in an interview.

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With a report from Jeff Gray

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