After months of negotiations, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is finally getting his way: the Ontario government has bowed to pressure and will pay for a mostly buried Eglinton crosstown line.
"This is a great day for taxpayers," Mr. Ford said. "I campaigned for nine months on a promise to build subways and today we are doing just that."
The announcement for a $12.4-billion transit plan, made jointly by Premier Dalton McGuinty and Mr. Ford on Thursday, is the final nail in the coffin for the Transit City plan which would have meant four new rapid transit lines in the city.
Several of the mayor's critics on city council railed that the Sheppard line would be "shafted" and the Finch Avenue struck off the list, calling it a "betrayal" of the public's trust. But the premier gave no indication that he was frustrated that the shovel-ready transit vision he had already hammered out with former mayor David Miller was scrapped.
Smiling and posing for photographs with Mr. Ford on a train at the Wilson subway station, the premier looked at ease as the horn blasted twice.
"I know he and I share the same goal when it comes to public transit: We've got to get people moving," Mr. McGuinty said, adding he was "pleased" the province and the municipal government have reached an agreement.
As far as the province is concerned, not much has changed with financing. Under the old and the new plan, the Ontario government agreed to put down $8.4-billion. The only difference is that province will now only pay for the Eglinton line and the cost of replacing the deteriorating Scarborough rapid transit line, instead of spreading the funds across four different lines.
Meanwhile, the city will shoulder the bill of a $4.2-billion expansion of the Sheppard subway from Scarborough Town Centre to Downsview station.
While Mr. Ford wanted more money from the provincial government, Mr. McGuinty has been steadfast in saying there is no more money to be had for transit plans. So in exchange for supporting the mayor's underground vision for Eglinton, the city will have to assume full responsibility for raising money for the Sheppard subway line.
Eight city councillors, who held their own news conference Thursday afternoon, questioned the feasibility of financing the project through the private sector, as suggested by Mr. Ford.
"It's not unusual for the private sector to contribute to city projects, but sooner or later the bill has to be paid ... and the city, the government has to pay it back," Councillor Joe Mihevc said. "So there's no way you can say this pixie dust, fairy dust thing will work and it won't cost Toronto taxpayers."
Scarborough councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker agreed saying "there's no such thing as charity in the private sector." Another suburban councillor, Raymond Cho, said his constituents believed there were getting a subway, but the Sheppard expansion will not reach them.
"When anyone asked me, who they should vote for mayor, I said Rob Ford," Mr. Cho said. "Now, we'll see what happens at the next election."
The eight councillors say they will not likely support the mayor's plan for the Sheppard expansion as it currently stands. If they garner enough supporting votes from city council, the city could be left with yet another transit plan scrapped and more time lost.
The new transit plan:
The Eglinton line: It will run from Black Creek Drive to Kennedy Road, for a distance of about 25 kilometres, and will have up to 26 station stops. The line will be largely underground from Black Creek to Kennedy, then partially elevated from Kennedy to the Scarborough City Centre.
The project is ready to go ahead, according to Metrolinx, the GTA's transit authority.
The Sheppard subway extension: It will be approximately 13 km in length and have nine new stations. As of now, details of costs and planning will be subject to a full study by the Toronto Transit Commission. Once the TTC approves the construction plans, council will vote on it.
On funding the Sheppard subway extension: Robert Prichard, Chair of Metrolinx, said any residual funds left after the construction of the Eglinton line would go towards financing the Sheppard subway expansion. "So the city has a big incentive to help us (and the province) get the Eglinton project done as effectively and efficiently as possible," he said. "Every dollar we save on Eglinton is a dollar we can give to the city for Sheppard." TTC Chair Karen Stintz also said the city is applying for federal support for funds set aside for public-private partnerships.
Finch line: Mr. Ford says he is determined that Finch Avenue will also have a subway within 10 years, but that's no guarantee – he might not get re-elected. Councillor Anthony Perruzza, whose ward has lost out on the Finch LRT, said this is the first he had heard of the plan. "This is a subway of the mayor's imagination," he said.