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Bruce McCuaig, CEO of Metrolinx, signs one of the tunnel-boring machines in Toronto, Ont. Wednesday, June 5, 2013. The transportation agency says the transit route will cut travel time dramatically.Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Toronto would have to take charge of a Scarborough subway if city councillors insist on having one, the head of Metrolinx warned in a sharp increase in rhetoric.

Bruce McCuaig, the chief executive of the provincial transit agency, said after a meeting with top officials from the Toronto Transit Commission and the City of Toronto that Metrolinx was ready to wash its hands of the project.

"If it is a subway, I think our belief is that would become the responsibility of the city and the TTC to deliver that project," he told reporters at City Hall.

Metrolinx has a signed agreement with the city for a Scarborough project currently under way and budgeted at $1.8-billion, replacing the area's aging rapid transit line with light rail.

Some local politicians have demanded that these constituents get a subway instead, arguing that anything less is treating them as second-class citizens. Opponents counter that the density is not there to support a subway and that the LRT, which would be separated from traffic, is a cheaper but equally good option.

A spokesman for Transportation Minister Glen Murray said the province would be willing to work with the city on a modified project, if the master agreement is amended, provided the additional costs are borne by the city. Changing the LRT project into a subway line would add, depending on whose estimate is used, between $500-million and $925-million to the cost.

"It's not like council has any plan to supplement the funds to pay for it," warned Councillor Josh Matlow, who said by phone he was ready to table a motion at council seeking a vote of support for the existing transit agreement.

"The concept that, if we don't re-affirm the master agreement, that the money actually might just not go to any project for Scarborough, I think would be shocking to most Scarborough residents," Mr. Matlow said. "They don't want to be waiting for the bus any more. They deserve rapid transit, they need rapid transit."

TTC chairwoman Karen Stintz was not available for an interview but took a more optimistic line in a series of tweets. She suggested that Metrolinx's willingness to talk about a Scarborough subway was a sign that the province recognized the potential merit of the project.

"Glad [province] hasn't closed door on extending [the Bloor-Danforth] subway," she wrote in one of the messages.

Top transit officials in the Toronto area met Tuesday amid jockeying by city politicians over the future of transit in the city.

The bickering reached such a pitch that Metrolinx last week issued an ultimatum to the city, warning that it would have to get behind the LRT project, which is already under way, or work would stop, creating a new round of delays. The two transit bodies agreed to try to find common ground Friday and a high-level meeting was set for Tuesday afternoon.

Mr. McCuaig reiterated after the meeting that Metrolinx continues to believe an LRT is right for the area.

He said the agency agreed to the meeting because it needs "clarity" from the city and has to be sure it will have a co-operative partner in the future.