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Transportation minister says province won’t back OneCity transit plan

A 2004 file photo of Bob Chiarelli, who won a provincial by-election in Ottawa West-Nepean for the McGuinty Liberals on Thursday.

Donald Weber/Donald Weber/The Globe and Mail

The ambitious OneCity transit plan proposed by the TTC chair cannot be allowed to derail any ongoing transportation projects in the region, Ontario Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli told reporters Friday.

"That train has already left the station," said Mr. Chiarelli.

"Too much time has been wasted and we need shovels in the ground and improvements to public transit starting now," he said. "There is no time left to waste."

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Mr. Chiarelli said the province and city council have approved work that is already under way on key light rail transit projects around Toronto and it's too late to change the plans.

The LRT lines planned for Eglinton-Finch are expected to be completed by 2020, along with the replacement and extension of the Scarborough rail line. The Sheppard East light rail line is expected to be finished a year later. The province has committed $8.4-billion towards the existing Transit City plan.

"Any penalties related to changes or delays of these plans are the city's sole responsibility," said Mr. Chiarelli.

Bruce McCuaig, the president and CEO of Metrolinx, noted Friday that construction on the Eglinton-Finch line has already begun and that $40-million had been spent on planning, design and engineering on the Scarborough RT project. In addition, vehicles had already been ordered for the line.

TTC Chair Karen Stintz said the minister's remarks do not mean a quick death for the OneCity transit proposal.

"I think we need to separate the four lines that have been approved and the long-term vision," she said of the $30-billion, 30-year OneCity plan she unveiled this week. It relies on a property-tax increase to pay for 170 kilometres of new subway, light-rail and bus lines.

She said she still plans to take OneCity to council in two weeks, even though the province has said it is going ahead with plans to replace the Scarborough Rapid Transit line with light rail, rather than a subway extension as the OneCity plan proposes.

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"OneCity is much bigger than the extension of the Bloor-Danforth line," she said. "What we are talking about in July is whether or not there is the will of council to continue studying a larger transit plan that serves every corner of the city and a funding model that supports that."

Mr. Chiarelli said OneCity has "a lot of merit," but it needs public consultation and consideration. He called it a future-looking concept that is conditional on $10-billion in funding from Ottawa and another $10-billion from Queen Park, as well as amended property tax legislation.

Toronto residents have already endured several years of "complicated and often messy debate" at City Hall over transit, he said, and there was no certainty the OneCity plan would go forward.

"We must not and cannot allow further council debate and delay," he said. "Transit in a city like Toronto isn't a luxury, it's a necessity."

If council approves the plan and signals it is willing to come to the table with funds, Ms. Stintz said she is still hoping the province will reconsider its decision.

Other city councillors had a much different take on Mr. Chiarelli's announcement, saying it shows how frustrated others have become with council's indecision on the transit file.

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"If individual councillors or small groups of councillors keep coming up with new schemes and changing their minds and trying to change the direction of multi-billion- dollar spending decisions, at some point somebody's got to say enough is enough and we've got to move forward," said TTC commissioner Peter Milczyn, a member of the mayor's executive.

"This is not the way you design transit systems, this is not the way you do planning and this is not the way you engage other levels of government in multi-billion dollar decisions."

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