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It’s never been made clear how much tunnelling Toronto Major John Tory budgeted for in his $8-billion price for his SmartTrack transit project.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

It could cost as much as $5-billion to build the western portion of Toronto Mayor John Tory's transit plan, according to sources who have seen high-level projections, an amount that would soak up more than half his estimated price tag for the whole project.

The figure raises new questions about the viability of doing the entire project for the $8-billion Mr. Tory promised during the mayoral campaign. And it is likely to re-energize debate about whether the area would be better served by a previously proposed light-rail line costing billions of dollars less.

Mr. Tory's transit plan is based mostly on the use of existing GO rail corridors. But he proposed as well a new rail link from the Mount Dennis area of western Toronto to the airport corporate centre in Mississauga, allowing a no-transfer-necessary connection. The price of that section was never broken out by the campaign and the city has also been tight-lipped about it, excluding cost projections from a recent report.

The mayor has said repeatedly that he himself doesn't know how high the estimates from the city's consultants had come in. He could not be reached Tuesday evening but, in a statement, his spokeswoman said it was too early to comment on what she called a draft report whose conclusions were still being refined.

The Globe and Mail has learned the cost projections for the western spur range from $3-billion to $5-billion, depending on the route taken. These figures are in a report by engineering consultants at HDR, which was hired by the city to study the feasibility of this part of the project. The figures do not include the cost of buying trains that would run in this section.

"We can't afford the capital for the system we've got already," Councillor Gord Perks said when told of the estimates.

"There's no reason why we should pay that much for transit to the airport."

The cost to build light rail instead along Eglinton Avenue – continuing the current Crosstown project further west – was also estimated by HDR and pegged at $1.3-billion, including the rolling stock.

It has never been made clear how much tunnelling Mr. Tory budgeted for in his $8-billion price for his project, which his campaign dubbed SmartTrack. He dismissed as "grotesque" a Globe and Mail analysis that at least 8.5 kilometres of his proposal would have to go underground along Eglinton, an estimate that was in line with the conclusion reached by HDR.

The highest of the HDR cost projections is for the route along Eglinton that most closely mimics the one proposed by Mr. Tory during the campaign. It is also the one that involves the most tunnelling. The HDR analysis looked at seven other route options, two of which were eliminated from further study.

Amid swirling questions about the cost of his transit promises, Mr. Tory was asked this week whether there was a budget ceiling above which he could no longer support the project. Although he told reporters he wouldn't discuss "hypotheticals," part of his answer could be interpreted as a subtle distancing from the western spur and its costly construction.

"SmartTrack and the utilization of existing rail corridors through the city of Toronto, with local stops, is going to be done," said the mayor, prompting a query whether that meant his support was less firm for the western spur – the part of the plan where there is not currently a rail corridor.

"I can tell you right now, the commitment again to providing the local service remains and is firm, as is the connection of people to jobs between the job hubs in Mississauga, downtown and Markham," Mr. Tory said. "SmartTrack … is going to connect people to jobs and provide some much-needed local relief in the city of Toronto on existing assets."