The Toronto Transit Commission has voted to further study the two Scarborough subways that council and the province have already rejected, prompting councillors who opposed the surprise decision to dismiss it as "stupid, stupid" and "folly."
TTC commissioners ordered two studies on the "merits" and "feasibility" of upgrading the Scarborough RT to a subway extension of the Bloor-Danforth line – instead of surface light-rail – and of extending the Sheppard subway to the Scarborough Town Centre to complete the so-called loop.
The twin reports, due in January, are highly unlikely to undo Toronto's plan for a provincially funded $8.4-billion light-rail network, but the decision to request them stole the spotlight from the TTC's unanimous call to make the downtown relief line a top priority.
That led to a tense exchange after the meeting adjourned, all within earshot of reporters.
Councillor John Parker, who was out of the room when Councillors Glenn De Baeremaeker and Peter Milczyn sprung their motions on the commission, chastised Mr. De Baeremaeker for championing a "stupid, stupid" motion that, Mr. Parker said, made the provincial Transportation Minister look like "the only grownup" on the issue.
"You undercut our credibility," Mr. Parker said to Mr. De Baeremaeker, before TTC Chair Karen Stintz stepped in to defend him.
Councillor Josh Matlow, who does not sit on the commission, said the vote was "absolutely" a gift to Mayor Rob Ford, who has repeatedly vowed to push for subways in Scarborough, despite council defying him and endorsing LRTs.
"Now we're reopening debates from the past about where we're going to build and what we're going to build? We don't even know if we have any money to build it. So that was folly," Mr. Matlow said.
The fight between light-rail and subways has been raging since Mr. Ford tried on his first day in office to kill his predecessor's Transit City LRT plan.
Council, led by Ms. Stintz, eventually rebelled against the Mayor's all-underground vision and voted in February and March to build mostly surface LRT on Eglinton, Finch and Sheppard Avenues and on the route of the deteriorating Scarborough RT.
Ms. Stintz, Mr. De Baeremaeker and a handful of allies then tried to introduce OneCity, a $30-billion proposal for 170 kilometres of new subway, bus and streetcar lines funded by a dedicated increase in property taxes.
Council refused to even study the plan and the province rejected it out of hand.
OneCity included upgrading the RT to a subway, a project Mr. De Baeremaeker, a left-leaning Scarborough councillor, still believes is the best and most affordable option for the city.
That is why he asked for the feasibility study Wednesday. (Mr. Milczyn then moved a second motion asking for a companion study on completing the northeastern portion of a Scarborough subway loop.)
"This time we would come to the table with half a billion dollars cash and slam it on the table and say, 'We want a subway and we're willing to pay for it,' " Mr. De Baeremaeker said.
Mr. De Baeremaeker's $500-million figure assumes the province would be willing to funnel the cash it has set aside for a Scarborough RT to a subway instead, leaving Toronto to make up the difference. But the Liberal government has already said no to that.
City council is expected to vote next week on a master agreement with Metrolinx, the province's transportation authority for the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton, which legally binds both parties to the existing light-rail plan.
"If it's changed, there's going to be significant penalties, obviously," said Jamie Robinson, Metrolinx's director of community relations and communications for the Toronto transit projects.
A spokesman for Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli also said it's too late to revisit the plan.
"The train has left the station," David Salter, the minister's press secretary, said in an e-mail.