A Toronto city staff report raises questions about Mayor John Tory's $8-billion SmartTrack transit plan – specifically a stretch of the massive 22-stop proposal known as the "western spur."
Since unveiling SmartTrack as his campaign centrepiece last year, Mr. Tory has fought back against critics who question the feasibility of his promise of 22 surface rail stations in seven years across the Toronto area. After months of study, city staff released a report on Thursday that highlights some of the same issues raised by the critics.
According to the report, tunnelling and additional track will probably be needed to build the western portion of the plan – stretching roughly from the Mount Dennis neighbourhood, near Eglinton Avenue and Weston Road, to Pearson International Airport in Mississauga. The mayor's original proposal had been for the entire transit network to run above ground, although he has acknowledged since that tunnelling will probably be required.
"For reasons related to technical feasibility and regulations affecting heavy rail operations, all corridor options are a combination of elevated and tunnelled sections," the report says.
The report adds that most of the seven route options under consideration would require "significant impacts" to the Mount Dennis and Eglinton Flats communities.
The mayor has promised in the past not to demolish homes or run surface rail through parks while building SmartTrack.
Still, the staff report does identify a number of positive aspects to the plan, including its ability to create more than 75 new transit connections across the region and provide much-needed relief to the Yonge Street subway line.
In a statement on Thursday, Mr. Tory described the report as "another step forward" in getting the plan built. The mayor has already received funding assurances from all three federal party leaders, as well as the province, for the plan.
"SmartTrack is going to be built," the statement read. "It will cut congestion on our transit system and on our roadways.
"And it will connect people to opportunity at job centres across the region."
But on the issue of connecting people to jobs, the staff report also raises questions. Although many of the 22 proposed SmartTrack stations "serve significant areas of employment growth," it says, "the projected employment density in the vicinity of proposed SmartTrack stations is low."
The report also notes that the proposal "does not serve many areas planned for residential growth which are not already served by rapid transit."
The same day as the report's release, a group of private citizens – some of them with ties to Mr. Tory and his 2014 mayoral campaign – announced the launch of a campaign in support of SmartTrack. The group, which says it is independent of the mayor's office, has pledged to develop "awareness campaigns" about the transit plan.
"Toronto is in desperate need of better, broader transit now," the group's spokesman, former MPP Alvin Curling, said in a statement.
"SmartTrack is an ingenious, innovative way to bring it quickly – in this generation."