The private sector could pay up to 60 per cent of the tab for making Rob Ford's Sheppard subway a reality, but the car-loving mayor would have to accept road tolls in the process.
Those are just two revelations in a highly anticipated report from Gordon Chong, the former city councillor Rob Ford tapped last March to prepare a plan for financing the mayor's dream of a Sheppard subway.
The report is set to be released publicly in five days, but it's making the rounds among Mr. Ford's inner circle. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Dr. Chong revealed some details and spoke optimistically about the prospects for Sheppard construction, a sharp change from forecasts he was making just a few months ago.
"I have to confess that over the last six months I have gone from optimism to deflation about this plan," he said. "But now I'm back on track. I feel very positive about it. I'm told by financial advisers that it's doable. The private sector would be chomping at the bit to get at it."
By Dr. Chong's projections, the private sector could pay for 50 per cent to 60 per cent of the total project cost. That's up from the 10 to 30 per cent that Dr. Chong was predicting late last year.
And the total cost would be much lower than the $4.2-billion that the TTC has predicted. One estimate for a line extending from Downsview to Scarborough Town Centre totals $3.7-billion.
The combination of a larger investment from private interests and lower overall project costs means that the line could be built with the public money that's already been committed: $330-million from Ottawa and, tentatively, $650-million left over from the province's $8.2-billion Eglinton line.
Under his formula, construction could begin before the end of the current council term. But if that is to happen, the city will have to offer up 30 to 50 years worth of revenue from a variety of sources, including air rights, development charges, tax-increment financing, parking levies and road tolls. That latter source has long been a bugaboo for the Fords, but Dr. Chong believes that once they absorb the report and send it to staff for further study, their resistance will soften. "I feel they're open to it," he said. "If the politicians are open to the use of all the revenue tools at our disposal, this is extremely doable."
While some around city hall have suggested that the mayor would be best off financing the line on a piecemeal stop-by-stop basis, Dr. Chong is recommending Toronto put out a tender for construction stretching all the way to Scarborough Town Centre.
The mayor's office is already touting Dr. Chong's work. "We need a subway on Sheppard and I have a plan to build it," said Mr. Ford at a news conference in Scarborough Wednesday.
Councillors opposed to Mr. Ford's plan have said the density along Sheppard will never warrant the massive expense of a subway. "That's professional conceit to say you can project things like that 30 or 50 years out," Dr. Chong said. "I hope I'm around to say, 'I told you so.' "
The mayor and his brother were also touting their vision of a buried Eglinton Crosstown light-rail line Wednesday.
Councillor Doug Ford said in an interview that a shakeup is in order at the TTC. He said plans to appoint four of five citizens to the commission will come to council "relatively soon."
"I believe we need some business folks involved in the TTC," the Etobicoke councillor said. "As far as I am concerned, the TTC needs a complete enema."
The councillor's comments come as speculation increases about the TTC's leadership, given a widening schism between the commission chair Karen Stintz and the mayor's office over burying the eastern leg of the LRT.
At the busy intersection of Eglinton Ave. and Victoria Park Wednesday, the mayor reaffirmed his commitment to the underground plan that Ms. Stintz has publicly opposed.
"Putting trains down the middle of congested, jammed up streets like the one behind us is not the answer. It is wrong," he said.
Ms. Stintz said Wednesday she has no intention of giving up her post as TTC chair. "I don't see any reason for me to quit," she said.