Suburbanites are the big winners in the Liberals' plans for transit, soaking up the bulk of the new money over the next decade even as other priorities such as a relief subway line into downtown Toronto get pushed into the indefinite future.
The province's 2015 budget presented on Thursday confirmed that people living outside Toronto will benefit the most from the Liberals' 10-year plan to build the infrastructure in southern Ontario that they say "a 21st century economy needs."
Of the $16-billion to be spent over 10 years for the next wave of transit building, $13.5-billion will be used to electrify and expand service on the GO Transit rail network. Another $1.6-billion will be spent on a light rail line in Mississauga and Brampton.
Both of these projects had already been announced, and some form of rapid transit for Hamilton is expected to eat up most of what is left in the transit fund.
The budget included no new money beyond the $16-billion already announced for this plan – in spite of hints in recent days from senior politicians – so meaningful progress on all other transit projects will be shunted years into the future.
The subway relief line into downtown Toronto – which TTC head Andy Byford and chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat have long called the city's top transit priority – is now relegated to a list of projects on which "planning and design work will continue." Also on that list is a northward extension of the Yonge subway line and a few bus rapid-transit lines in the 905.
Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca took umbrage earlier this week at the suggestion that the plans for new transit spending short-change Toronto, saying the city is benefiting from earlier projects either under way or planned. As well, some of the new money to be spent on GO Transit rail will have a corollary benefit for the city.
Toronto Mayor John Tory needs the province to electrify its GO corridors for his own transit plan, a mostly surface rail proposal running on parts of the same network. Design and environmental assessment work could begin by next year on the Kitchener and Stouffville GO rail corridors, which the mayor wants to use, although some of this will require new funding from the municipal and federal governments.
Finance Minister Charles Sousa on Thursday called $130-billion in provincial infrastructure spending over the decade "the largest … in Ontario's history." To reach that sum – about $50-billion of which is going to the Toronto and Hamilton areas – the government includes several costly projects that are under way already, some of which are nearly finished.
Among the ongoing projects are the long-gestating light rail lines on Finch and Sheppard avenues in the northern part of Toronto. The budget shows that procurement on the Finch LRT, a project that dates back to the previous decade and was already funded, will begin this year. The proposed LRT on Sheppard is still in the pre-planning stage and procurement will not start for a few years. Neither will open until the next decade.
The $16-billion in new money for the Toronto and Hamilton areas is to be accompanied by about $15-billion for transportation infrastructure in the rest of the province.
The government says these projects are to be funded in part by selling a stake in Hydro One and squeezing more money out of other assets. But the opposition Progressive Conservatives, noting that the $130-billion overall total is the same as was promised last year, called the sale of assets a "shell game" being used to reduce the deficit.