The absence of two key Toronto transit proposals in the latest Ontario provincial budget is raising concerns that they are "not even on the radar any more."
The Liberal government at Queen's Park likes to tout a massive decade-long investment in infrastructure, including billions for public transit in the Toronto area. But its 2016 budget illustrates the difficulty facing residents who try to follow evolving transit plans and figure out what will and will not end up being built.
As recently as the 2015 budget, last April, the light rail line along Sheppard Avenue East was set to start construction within a few years, a timeline confirmed by staff during that year's lockup. Only days later, the province announced that the project would be deferred, with work not expected to start until next decade. The project is not mentioned in Thursday's budget.
Also missing is any reference to a long-proposed light rail transit line across Toronto's waterfront, which appeared in a major city report this month as a key project to build within the next 15 years. Although this idea had not received any formal provincial funding promise, it was specifically mentioned in the 2014 budget as the sort of project that Queen's Park could support.
According to government officials, speaking not for attribution under the rules of the budget lockup, nothing should be read into the absence of either of these transit projects.
Patrick Searle, a spokesman for Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca, said in an e-mail that some projects "make appearances [in] some budgets and make room for other projects to be highlighted in other budgets."
He said the Sheppard LRT "will be built as planned."
Given the way apparently firm plans have changed in the past, though, the exclusion of these projects from the budget – a 346-page document in which space was found to mention transportation initiatives as theoretical as extending the Yonge subway to Richmond Hill, and as small as a $675,000 boost to roads, cycling and pedestrian infrastructure in the town of Cobourg – prompts questions about their future.
"We see a government whose real investments in a lot of these projects are punted down the road," NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said.
"Some of these important projects … it's concerning that they're not even on the radar any more. And we know that there's a lot of pressure here in Toronto, a lot of pressure for transit investment. What the budget acknowledges is that there's a lot of pressure from other parts of Ontario as well. What's worrisome is a real lack of commitment on timelines for actually getting some of these things done."
The Sheppard LRT faces some of the strongest headwinds of any local transit proposal, serving as a hot button for area politicians who would prefer a subway. Staff at the city of Toronto, in their transit report released this month, suggested that the route would be served by an unspecified form of rapid transit, which could mean nothing more than better bus service.
But Metrolinx says a 2012 deal with the city, in which the regional transit agency formally pledged to fund and build the line as light rail, still stands. The master agreement "remains in effect," Metrolinx spokeswoman Anne Marie Aikins confirmed.