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Toronto Mayor John Tory said Monday, April 3, 2017, that the downtown relief line is a priority over any extension of the Yonge subway

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Suburban politicians can forget about extending the Yonge subway beyond city limits until the downtown relief line is under way, Toronto Mayor John Tory warned Monday.

The sharp tone came amid speculation that the upcoming provincial budget will include some form of funding for extending the Yonge subway from Finch station to Richmond Hill, a project long sought by politicians north of the city.

"The Yonge line won't move an inch closer to Richmond Hill until we have shovels in the ground, digging out that much-needed subway relief line," Mr. Tory told reporters. "It's our subway, so at the end of the day I can't imagine that anybody would try to force us to expand our subway north."

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Asked about the remarks at an unrelated event later Monday, Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca would not respond directly. He pointed to past and ongoing provincial investment in Toronto-area transit, including funding toward preliminary planning of the Yonge extension and the downtown relief line (DRL), saying that both "in the long term have merit." But he would not comment specifically about the sequencing of the projects.

"I'm not going to kind of engage in a war of words on this one," Mr. Del Duca said.

It's unclear how much power the city has in this situation. The province has shown its willingness to strong-arm Toronto in the past, threatening to withhold gas-tax funding years ago unless the Toronto Transit Commission adopted the Presto fare card. And only months ago, the city's proposal for tolls on the Gardiner and Don Valley expressways, highways it owns and operates, was vetoed by Queen's Park.

Mr. Tory said he would be "flabbergasted" if the province chose to sideline the DRL and back the Yonge extension first, but also took a dig that Queen's Park has been a good partner in funding Toronto transit "in the past."

The downtown relief line is a multipart project, which is so far unfunded. The first phase, with the very preliminary cost estimate of $6.8-billion, would run south from Pape subway station, on the Bloor-Danforth line, before curling west and entering the downtown. It is likely to end around City Hall and is intended both to reduce crowding on the Yonge line, south of Bloor, and alleviate pressure at the increasingly crowded Bloor/Yonge subway interchange.

Two future phases are envisioned. One would continue the original line through the core before curling back up to meet the Bloor-Danforth line on the west side. The other would extend the DRL north of Danforth from Pape station. No formal cost estimates exist for these.

TTC chief Andy Byford has long said that the DRL is the city's No. 1 transit priority. He reiterated that point to reporters after the mayor's press event Monday morning.

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"There's no point in adding more people to the Yonge line, from the north [without a DRL]," he said, standing at the Bloor/Yonge subway interchange. "This station will be saturated … by 2031."

The DRL plan was among the unfunded projects included in a package that has been approved by Toronto city council.

Mr. Tory said that he took solace from the recent federal budget, with its support for transit, and called for the province to come forward with substantial DRL funding. He pointed to the province's nixing of Toronto's road-toll plan as evidence that it was up to Queen's Park to fund the project.

The city could fund some portion, Mr. Tory acknowledged, pointing to the example of British Columbia – where he said the province and the federal government had each agreed to pay 40 per cent – as a good model. The mayor would not "speculate" on where the city's money might come from, but argued that major infrastructure projects such as this should not be financed off the property-tax base.

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