With shovels now set to break ground on the Sheppard light rail line in the middle of the next civic election, Councillor Doug Ford is vowing to continue the mayor's fight for subways all the way to the ballot box.
A revised timeline for building a light rail network in Toronto was released Tuesday by Metrolinx, the province's transit agency. The schedule follows city council's decision to revive the Transit City plan cancelled by the mayor on his first day in office. It includes a condensed construction plan that would have all four new lines completed by the original 2020 deadline.
Construction on Sheppard would begin in the summer of 2014, about the same time Mayor Rob Ford's re-election efforts likely will go into full swing with a promise to suburban voters of subway expansion.
"The people of Toronto will have to decide this. We are running on subways," said Councillor Ford, who managed his brother's campaign for mayor in the last election. "We are going to run on subways and it will be a clear message to the politicians that don't want to listen … they are going to be held accountable in the next election."
If opposition parties at Queen's Park defeat the minority Liberal government and force an election before the civic campaign, Councillor Ford said he is willing to run for provincial office if that is what is needed to give Toronto a stronger voice on this issue.
Under the revised Metrolinx timetable, the Sheppard line would be the first to open, whisking riders from Don Mills station to Morningside Avenue in 2018, a year before the Finch West LRT and a replacement for the aging Scarborough RT are scheduled to be completed. The Eglinton Crosstown LRT would open in 2020.
The report goes to Metrolinx's board Wednesday and then to provincial cabinet for approval.
Before the mayor pulled the plug on the $8.4-billion light rail plan, the largest infrastructure project in the country, the Sheppard line was scheduled to open in 2015, in time for the Pan Am Games. The mayor's actions – and council's reversal of his decision – has delayed the project for 18 months.
Restarting the plan will have different effects on the four light rail lines, Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig said Tuesday. Work on the Eglinton Crosstown was never stopped, he noted, but the loss of two construction seasons and new requirements by the province that will see Infrastructure Ontario managing the project have pushed back the schedule for Sheppard by close to four years. The new plan will also see work begin earlier on replacing the Scarborough RT.
"We now have a council resolution and we are moving ahead with the project," Mr. McCuaig said. "Yes, the projects that we have are ambitious for 2020, but, at the same time, I think people are impatient. They want to see outcomes and we want to get on with delivering good, solid outcomes for people so they can see what good transit does for the city."
Any extra costs associated with the delay will be linked to the purchase of the light rail cars and have yet to be negotiated with Bombardier, the supplier, Mr. McCuaig said.
TTC Chair Karen Stintz said she is happy with the plan. "I think the timelines are aggressive," she said. "I am pleased that Metrolinx is moving as quickly as it is to bring this transit to areas of the city that most need it."
Because council did not cause the delay, she said, she does not believe it will be on the hook for any extra costs.
"This is excellent news," said Councillor Joe Mihevc, who fought to bring back the LRT plan. "They [Metrolinx]are clearly listening to the city and its priorities as defined by city council."