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Toronto Toronto City Council approves planning for raft of transit projects

Transit passengers are seen at Kennedy Station in Scarborough, Ontario, Monday, Jun 9, 2014.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Toronto City Council has again thrown its support behind a subway expansion deeper into Scarborough, a vote that promises to end the divisive debate that has roiled council for years.

After a day of heated speeches and duelling motions, a strong majority voted on Wednesday to push forward on planning for a number of transit projects, among them the contentious one-stop subway extension from Kennedy station to the Scarborough Town Centre.

"I believe this vote should represent the concluding words of the Scarborough subway versus LRT [light-rail transit] chapter," Mayor John Tory said after the decision. "There will be more votes, but I think if people take the proper lesson from all this, [it] is that the council has said move forward, and so does the public say, move forward, get it built."

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After years of back-and-forth on the Scarborough transit file, this seems a tall order. But one of the most vocal defenders of the original plan to build a light-rail extension north from Kennedy station instead suggested that it may now be time to stand down.

"I don't want to drag it on," Councillor Josh Matlow said. " I think the evidence supports that if we go further than today, that it'll be difficult if not unreasonable to go back on council's decision today. And I acknowledge that."

The plan passed by council also includes the first phase of the downtown relief line, light-rail extensions of the Eglinton Crosstown, to both the west and east, and the transit proposal Mr. Tory calls SmartTrack.

Wednesday's vote is not final, but is an incremental development that allows staff to flesh out these proposals, which will include establishing more precise price tags for them.

As it stands now, the Scarborough subway project is the only part of the plan that is fully funded. The rest of the projects have little or no money attached to them, setting the stage for difficult debates to come.

"My determination is complete to have the entire plan funded and built," Mr. Tory said before the final vote when he was asked about parts of the plan falling off the table.

And other transit battles loom. As part of Wednesday's debate, councillors pushed as well for staff to study a variety of other subway projects, including extending the money-losing Sheppard subway in both directions. These all passed and will return to council next year after initial study.

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The question of funding also looms large over all of these decisions.

The current Scarborough subway plan, costed at around $3.2-billion, has enough money set aside for it. But the goal of building both the subway and the Eglinton East LRT for the cost of an earlier subway proposal is no longer possible. The subway has jumped in price, leaving little money for that LRT, which is estimated at $1.6-billion to $1.7-billion.

The Eglinton West LRT, which the province had once promised to build, now exists as part of Mr. Tory's SmartTrack plan. Its cost is estimated at $1.5-billion to $2.1-billion, which, together with $700-million to $1.1-million for six new stations on the GO network, is the current bill for SmartTrack. The mayor has said these will be funded through a federal contribution and by capitalizing on development in the area.

The downtown relief line is estimated to cost $6.8-billion to build from the Pape station on the Bloor-Danforth line to the core. There is no funding attached to this project.

"We know we have on the table … far more than we will ever have money for," Councillor Janet Davis said, warning that Tuesday would not be the end of the transit debates.

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