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Not so long ago, it seemed no politician of any stripe wanted to build the downtown relief line of the Toronto subway.

By any objective measure, the project is badly needed. The inner city has not received a single new rapid transit station since the 1960s, despite growing denser every year, and the Yonge line is increasingly crowded with suburban commuters.

But the Transit City plan of leftist former mayor David Miller focused on suburban light rail. The Liberal administration of former premier Dalton McGuinty cared above all else about getting rapid transit on Eglinton. And when rightwinger Rob Ford arrived at city hall promising subways, subways, subways, the DRL was not among them.

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The reason plans for the relief line sat gathering dust was pretty obvious. With most downtown voters firmly in the camp of the left, the battles for political power in this province almost always play out in the suburbs. And when Mr. Ford came to power, he made "downtown" a dirty word.

Politics, in effect, trumped good planning.

Suddenly, however, the line is a top priority for every politician in the provincial election campaign.

Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak was first out of the gate last fall, when he let slip that the DRL (or "the east-west express subway south of Bloor" as he calls it) would be part of his transit policy. Then, Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne put the line in her 10-year, $29-billion transportation-building plan. The NDP's Andrea Horwath, somewhat belatedly, announced her commitment to the line last month.

Not to be outdone, Mr. Hudak has subsequently said he loves the DRL so much, he would start the engineering studies within 100 days of taking office as premier. On Friday, he reaffirmed it is the first thing he would build.

So what changed?

First, the TTC and Metrolinx spelled out in no uncertain terms, in a pair of reports in the fall of 2012, what transit experts had long known: that without a relief line, the Yonge subway and some GO lines would be jammed to capacity. As Metrolinx put it, not building the relief line would make it nearly impossible to build more rapid transit in the suburbs.

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Second, and perhaps most crucially, discussion at city hall and in the media swiftly focused on the fact that the line would primarily benefit suburban commuters by allowing people from Etobicoke, Scarborough and places further afield to bypass the overcrowded Yonge-Bloor interchange. This led to several informal attempts to rename the line to something less politically fraught.

Finally, it became clear to provincial politicians that the relief subway -- whatever you want to call it -- would have to be built first if any new suburban extensions were ever to materialize. Promising all those swing voters in Richmond Hill a subway would be selling snake oil if you didn't also promise to relieve pressure on Yonge and Bloor first.

This consideration appears to be driving Mr. Hudak in particular. With no hope of winning any of the ridings the relief line would run through, he appears to be banking that suburbanites understand they will be the ones to benefit from it.

Political calculations certainly play a larger role for Ms. Wynne and Ms. Horwath: the Liberal strategy largely depends on taking away votes from the NDP, and the NDP-held ridings along the line are obvious targets. Ms. Horwath's scramble to back the line appeared to be a belated realization she had to do something to protect her lunch before Ms. Wynne stepped in and ate it.

It's too soon to say whether the DRL will ever become reality, especially in a city that loves talking about transit more than actually building it.

But if it does, it will be one instance of politics finally following good planning.

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