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Ford can’t bury Eglinton LRT without tax hike, minister says

Workers are seen at the official launch of tunnel-boring machines in Toronto for the Eglinton Crosstown LRT line on June 5, 2013.


Toronto Mayor Rob Ford will have to hike municipal taxes if he wants to bury the eastern end of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, Infrastructure Minister Brad Duguid is warning.

In an op-ed in the Toronto Sun Friday, Mr. Ford promised to cancel planned bike lanes and wider sidewalks on Eglinton Avenue and use the money to put the Scarborough portion of the LRT underground. But Mr. Duguid said such a proposition is so expensive, Mr. Ford will have to find other ways to get the money to do it.

"I'm waiting to see what taxes Mayor Ford is going to raise to find the extra billion dollars or so he will require to put that underground," Mr. Duguid said Friday at Queen's Park. "I didn't see that in his announcement, but I'm sure that's coming later in the campaign."

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Mr. Duguid, who is overseeing the construction of the provincially funded LRT, suggested Toronto should stop changing its mind on what kind of transit it wants.

In the past four years, the city has vacillated between above-ground LRTs, underground LRTs and subways, and has repeatedly changed transit plans – all of which have led to delays in getting transit built. So far, Queen's Park has acquiesced, reallocating provincial money to any project the city chooses. But Mr. Duguid said the plans should stop changing.

"Let's just build these damn subways. Let's just build these damn transit lines. Get 'em built so people can use 'em. Enough talk," Mr. Duguid said. "We've got a project already underway, we've got to build it. It's time to get on with these projects."

Mr. Duguid, who represents a Scarborough riding at Queen's Park, is openly supporting John Tory in the October mayoral election.

Mr. Ford dismissed his remarks, referring to him as "one MPP."

"We all followed the provincial election; that the Premier supported subways -- campaigned on subways. Now, if one MPP goes off the tracks – pardon the pun – he's not listening to what the premier campaigned on," the Mayor said.

Premier Kathleen Wynne actually campaigned on a mix of subways and LRTs. The province has already put up $8.4-billion to pay for LRTs on Eglinton, Finch and Sheppard avenues, and an extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway in Scarborough. Ms. Wynne promised a further $15-billion for LRTs in Mississauga and Hamilton, a downtown relief line on the Toronto subway and more service on the GO regional rail network.

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Mr. Duguid is one of Ms. Wynne's top lieutenants, responsible for billions of dollars in spending.

Since the Mayor's admission to smoking crack cocaine and Toronto city council voting last year to remove the bulk of his powers, the Premier has dealt with Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, and not Mr. Ford. But on Friday, Mr. Ford said he's confident that he could get Ms. Wynne to work with him.

"The Premier has to deal with me when I get re-elected," he told reporters. "I'm not quite sure how she's going to ignore me."

He also said he's confident that he can gain council support for the idea – even though the current council voted against burying the Eglinton Crosstown in 2012.

"We're going to get new councillors," he said, referring to the election. "I think they'll get the message loud and clear that people in Scarborough, North York, want subways. They have to listen to what people want."

The Eglinton line will run underground through congested midtown, then move up to the surface in Scarborough. Burying it from end to end would be vastly more expensive than the current project.

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A spokeswoman for regional transit agency Metrolinx said the additional cost of burying the eastern portion of the line was pegged at $1.4-billion in 2010 dollars. The shorter portion of above-ground line in the west end could be expected to cost a similar amount, proportionally, for a total of at least $1.62-billion more.

Anne Marie Aikins, whose agency is passing on $85-million in sunk costs to the city after an LRT plan in Scarborough was replaced with a subway, noted that the price could rise still further.

"Any substantial change to the master agreement potentially could add cost," she said.

Mr. Duguid suggested the province is already putting in a lot of money for transit, and has no appetite to fork over more.

"Despite our fiscal challenges, we're making unprecedented investments in transit in Toronto and across the province," Mr. Duguid said. "We're putting our money forward."

- With reports from Oliver Moore

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Washington correspondent

Adrian Morrow covers U.S. politics from Washington, D.C. Previously he was The Globe's Ontario politics reporter. He's covered news, crime and sports for The Globe since 2010. He won the National Newspaper Award for politics reporting in 2016. More

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