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Fighting for control of LRT dig, TTC warns of woes on Eglinton

A TTC bus battles traffic on Eglinton Avenue.

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

A fight for control of building Toronto's new light-rail network has taken a new turn with the Toronto Transit Commission publicly challenging the province's promise to complete the Eglinton Crosstown by 2020.

The TTC is urging Metrolinx, the provincial transit authority for the GTA, to set a new "realistic" target of 2022 or 2023 to finish the $4.9-billion, 19-kilometre line, saying in a staff report, which goes before the commission on Wednesday, that the original deadline can't be met without massive disruption.

Behind the disagreement is a power struggle over who should manage construction of Toronto's largest public transit expansion in decades: the TTC or Infrastructure Ontario, a provincial procurement agency designed to attract public-private partnerships to large capital projects.

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The McGuinty government, which is footing the $8.4-billion bill for the four new lines, decided Infrastructure Ontario should act as the procurement agent, selecting by mid-2014 a private consortium to design, build, finance and maintain a network ultimately owned by Metrolinx and operated by the TTC.

Mayor Rob Ford is an enthusiastic about putting IO in charge of Eglinton, Sheppard and Finch and the revamped Scarborough rapid transit.

"The mayor continues to remain supportive of Metrolinx's plan to look at a P3 option," Mark Towhey, the mayor's director of policy, said on Tuesday.

After Metrolinx voted at the end of April to resurrect former mayor David Miller's Transit City – at the behest of city council, which rejected Mr. Ford's all-underground vision – the mayor's office issued talking points to friendly councillors that praised the decision to put IO in charge.

However, making IO the lead agency on delivering the lines requires the TTC to disband a 200-person Transit Expansion Department established in 2008, and sacrifice control.

Half of those 200 staffers are in-house consultants who would be let go; the rest would move to other TTC projects.

TTC management asked the American Public Transit Association to convene an expert panel that would conduct a peer review of the TTC's plan so far.

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The panel echoed the TTC's concerns about IO's plans.

The panel's findings, which form part of the staff report, point out that although the agency has delivered projects such as hospitals and courthouses on time and budget, it has never delivered a massive public transit network. It is working on an LRT project in Ottawa now.

Metrolinx insists IO can meet the 2020 deadline – especially with a private consortium to keep the project on track.

"We accept that the 2020 timeline is an aggressive schedule," Metrolinx president Bruce McCuaig said, "but we believe that it's achievable."

Chair Karen Stintz said the TTC has accepted losing control of the projects, although the transit authority will still be consulted, especially on the stations at Kennedy, Eglinton and Eglinton West where the lines will meet existing transit.

She said the report is simply an attempt to get some answers from Metrolinx.

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For example, the TTC report predicts it takes three-to-four years to build an underground station and another one-to-two to test it.

Since IO won't select a private partner until mid-2014, the report suggests the only way to complete the Eglinton Crosstown on time is by digging out and building as many as 12 underground stations at once – a recipe for a traffic nightmare on Eglinton for which the city, not Metrolinx, would likely take the heat.

"Something's got to give," Ms. Stintz said. "So help us understand what's going to give."

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Kelly Grant is a health reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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