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A $1-billion boost to Toronto's transit system, expected today, would be a welcome "down payment" to ease gridlock in the city and region, Mayor David Miller said yesterday.

"It's a good start," Mr. Miller said of the expected deal, which calls for the federal government, the province and the city each to put up $350-million over five years for improvements -- and some expansion-related projects -- for the Toronto Transit Commission.

Prime Minister Paul Martin, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Mr. Miller will be on hand to make the announcement, which is timed for today's 50th anniversary of the TTC.

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Late yesterday, however, officials from the city and the provincial government were still haggling over key details.

The last-minute disagreements are over what projects will qualify for the year-to-year cash commitments.

In theory, the blockbuster announcement works out to about $70-million a year from each level of government, but the actual amounts from Ottawa and Queen's Park this year and next may be much lower.

One estimate puts this year's federal contribution at only $20-million toward the TTC's 2004 capital budget of $338-million.

While the city wants new dollars to go to TTC priorities, the senior governments have their own pet projects.

About three-quarters of the funding is for improvements to the existing system, such as track upgrading and streetcar repairs, but several government sources confirmed there will be some money for new initiatives.

The province is keen to introduce a so-called "smart card," designed to make it easier for commuters to move around the Toronto region with a single transit fare card.

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As well, sources say the federal government wants to direct funding to two new bus rapid transit services, one from the top of the Yonge subway line into York Region and the other from Downsview, the northern terminus of the Spadina subway line, to York University.

The bus rapid transit service would be a first step toward a full-fledged subway link to York University.

There will also be funding for an environmental assessment for a future subway line to the university.

Separate from the three-way funding agreement, the province was discussing a possible "top-up" of $30-million in capital funding for the TTC this year. In essence, the extra funds would help the TTC this year, especially if the federal dollars don't kick in right away.

As of late yesterday, talks between the city and the province were still continuing.

The three-way government announcement has been in the works since last fall, but was delayed because of a change of government in Ontario and a change of Liberal leaders in Ottawa.

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The deal, if unveiled as expected, marks a major shift for the federal government, pledging assistance to the TTC over five years instead of one-time funding. In 2002, for example, Ottawa gave $76-million to the TTC.

A multiyear agreement for the TTC is "a great step," said chief general manager Richard Ducharme. "I don't want a quick fix," he added. "It took 15 years for governments to screw up transit systems in Ontario. Give them time to fix it."

Like the mayor, Mr. Ducharme warns that the so-called "down payment" goes only partway to meeting the system's needs over the next 10 years.

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