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TTC endorses light-rail timeline despite staff warnings

TTC streetcar

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

The Toronto Transit Commission is standing behind the aggressive timetable set by the province to build the Eglinton light-rail line despite warnings from the TTC's own staff that it is "unrealistic" to think the massive project will be done by 2020.

Senior TTC staff identified several "red flags" in plans for the $4.9-billion, 19-kilometre line in a presentation to the commission Wednesday, foremost among them the condensed schedule for building the underground section between Keele Street and Laird Drive and the disruption that will cause.

"We don't think this is realistic or achievable," TTC chief capital officer Sameh Ghaly told the commission, saying a more realistic goal is 2022 or 2023.

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The TTC's new leader, Andy Byford, played down the differing views, saying the commission is working closely with Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency charged with delivering the city's new light-rail network. The commission voted Wednesday to endorse the Metrolinx plan, although responsibility for the project rests with the province, which is picking up the cost.

"It's not meant to be awkward. It's not meant to be argumentative," Mr. Byford told reporters after the presentation. "The purpose of that report was to say in our professional opinion there are some issues that need to be aired."

Mr. Byford said it is important that the public know that the province – not the TTC – is building the lines. He dismissed suggestions that transit staff were going public with their objections to the plan in order to deflect any future blame if the project goes off the rails.

TTC chair Karen Stintz said as construction proceeds it is important to be clear about who will address public concerns about major disruptions, such as the possible closing of the Allen Expressway to build a new station. "If it's not our project and not our accountability, we can't be held responsible for those answers," she said. "We need to figure out a way that we manage that public-relations function because it will be increasingly important as Eglinton gets reduced … there will be a lot of disruption."

Councillor Glenn De Baermaeker said such disruptions are a small price to pay for the province's investment in Toronto's transit system. "When you spend billions of dollars all at once, you may have some traffic jams," he said.

Councillor Josh Colle, who represents a ward that includes Eglinton, said he would rather have the project done quickly than suffer through a long construction project.

"I want an aggressive timeline," he said. "We have been waiting for this for 30 years."

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The commission also asked that staff work to have a signed agreement with the province on the entire light-rail project by the commission's September meeting.

That agreement, Ms. Stintz said, is expected to include an operating subsidy from the province to cover the additional cost to the TTC of running the light-rail lines on Eglinton, Sheppard and Finch over the existing bus routes.

"What the master agreement will be is the [difference]between what it costs us now and what it will cost us when the new lines are built," she said.

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