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The Globe and Mail

Fort York: A bridge too far for Toronto city council

It was designed as a showpiece to mark the bicentennial of a defining moment in Toronto's history. Now a multi-million dollar footbridge to Fort York has become the latest example of deep divisions at city council.

Budget-conscious councillors succeeded Wednesday to delay the long-planned, $22-million bridge across the railway tracks, defeating a last-ditch effort by downtown Councillor Mike Layton to bring the matter to council for debate.

The temporary delay means the span will not be built before work starts on the railway tracks below, pushing the project back at least to 2015, well past the original deadline to mark the anniversary of the War of 1812.

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Planning and design of the bridge has taken the city three years and has cost an estimated $1.3-million. Since then, the project has gone $4.4-million over original estimates. That overrun, combined with a potential loss of revenue from development charges and the sale of city-owned land near the site, prompted a group led by Councillor David Shiner to put forward a last-minute request for further study of the link at a committee meeting last month.

Mr. Shiner's request caught first-time councillor Mr. Layton and other project supporters by surprise and set off an 11th-hour effort to rescue the bridge. This included an extensive letter-writing campaign and the support of local developers and former Conservative politician John Tory. The initiative, however, failed to sway enough members of city council on Wednesday to allow a debate.

After the defeat, a visibly shaken Councillor Shelley Carroll lashed out at the tactics used by Mr. Shiner and other allies of Mayor Rob Ford to quash the project. In particular, she took aim at a confidential staff report that included an estimate of the possible revenue the city might gain from development near the bridge that was not given to council before Wednesday.

"This administration was so Nervous Nellie that they might not actually succeed, that they eradicated all democracy, seized the report away from council, but created the report nevertheless so they could discuss it with the media," she told reporters. "It is the most underhanded piece of anti-democracy I have ever seen."

Mr. Shiner defended his actions in a heated exchange with Mr. Layton outside the council floor, saying the delay does not mean the bridge is cancelled, as Mr. Layton and others argued. He said the link could be done for less or at no cost to the city if developers became involved.

As for the bicentennial celebrations, Mr. Shiner said other routes to Fort York could be improved by next year. "I don't know how many Americans are going to be coming up here to celebrate the War of 1812 when we beat them. It's not going to happen."

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