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Bayview Station on the Sheppard subway line.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

A new subway line in downtown Toronto is being prioritized, with a goal of having it running within 15 years.

Metrolinx head Bruce McCuaig said Thursday that the so-called Downtown Relief Line is so important to help reduce congestion that they are moving up their target by a decade.

"We brought forward the downtown relief line because we think it's really important, from a regional perspective, to deal with the crunch of getting people into downtown Toronto, especially south of Bloor street," he told reporters after unveiling updated plans at the Toronto Board of Trade.

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"We think it's important to provide more capacity. Not only for the downtown area but more broadly in the region so that we can support other projects."

The route of the new line remains undefined and Mr. McCuaig said that such specifics would be a discussion between Metrolinx, the Toronto Transit Commission and the city. For planning purposes the line has been estimated at 13 kilometres and to cost approximately $7.4-billion.  This is part of the $34-billion overall transit project called The Big Move.Thursday's ambitious update on the four-year-old Big Move also includes extending the Yonge subway line north to Richmond Hill, at an estimated cost of $3.4-billion.

However, none of this money has been allocated and Mr. McCuaig acknowledges that it would be unrealistic to expect more funding from cash-strapped governments. He does not believe increased fares and efficiencies would raise enough money. However, he said that other cities have used many methods to fund transit, some of which could be useful in Toronto.

Metrolinx will prepare an investment strategy by the summer and present it to the province and affected municipalities.

Mr. McCuaig acknowledged that subways take so long to build that they would prefer having financing in place soon.

"We're hopeful that, as we submit our plan in June, that there could be some quick decision-making," he said.

The Metrolinx president and CEO spoke one day after he and other transit leaders inked formal agreements for a region-wide smart-card fare system and four new light-rail lines.

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On Thursday, he noted that the population of the Toronto and Hamilton area will swell over the next two decades by three million people. Not addressing this pressure could leave commuters facing an extra 109 minutes daily in their cars, he said.

The two key projects highlighted Thursday are connected, according to Mr. McCuaig, who said the current Yonge line wouldn't be able to handle the extra volume caused by an extension to Richmond Hill without the relief line diverting some riders.

"If we don't get this right, we cannot address the pressures that exist in the rest of the system," he told the lunch-time crowd, according to his prepared remarks.

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