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TTC chief executive officer Andy Byford said the transit authority is ‘mindful of politics and the potential change’ surrounding plans for a Scarborough subway line.DEBORAH BAIC/The Globe and Mail

The TTC is trying to restrict its subway preparations in Scarborough to work that could also be applied to a light rail line, a recognition that transit for the area remains uncertain.

The acknowledgment by TTC chief Andy Byford sparked an immediate furor at city hall, coming amid a municipal election race in which transportation promises to be the hottest topic. Among the issues under dispute is whether the current plan for a subway extension in Scarborough should be continued or revoked in favour of the earlier LRT plan.

Mr. Byford stressed that his transit service is proceeding under the direction given by council for a subway but said that they are keeping their options open.

"What we're trying to avoid is wasted money, okay," Mr. Byford said Wednesday before the monthly meeting of the TTC board.

"So whether it were an LRT or a subway, there's certain things that you would have to do anyway by way of preparatory work. So, given the potential uncertainty in the runup to a mayoral election, we're trying to limit work to that which would have to be done for either mode."

Subway opponents continue to argue that light rail is the better and most cost-effective way to serve Scarborough. They have won the support of mayoral candidates Olivia Chow and David Soknacki. But three other leading contenders – Mayor Rob Ford, Karen Stintz and John Tory – insist the current plan must be heeded.

Mr. Ford, long a champion of subways and an outspoken opponent of surface rail, reacted sharply to Mr. Byford's comments Wednesday.

"Council has approved the subway going to Scarborough," he said. "No LRTs are going to go to Scarborough. Period. This is a done deal."

Mr. Ford also took the opportunity to begin explaining how he would pay for his transit platform, which has an extension to the Sheppard subway at the top of his list. He said this would be funded through a 0.25-per-cent property-tax increase. This would raise an estimated $5-million per year. A subway could be expected to cost about $300-million per kilometre and Mr. Ford acknowledged that further funding would need to be found.

"You need the province to get on board," he said. "You need the federal government to get on board … and you need the three Ps [public-private partnership], we've got to get the private sector involved."

Rapid transit in Toronto's east end has consumed an enormous amount of political oxygen in the past year. After much debate, city council in October narrowly backed a short subway extension in Scarborough instead of an LRT funded by the province. The subway's higher price tag would be met by diverting some of the provincial money, through a federal contribution and with $1-billion raised in Toronto via higher property taxes.

A spokeswoman for Metrolinx confirmed Wednesday, though, that the original contract specifying an LRT in Scarborough has not yet been replaced by one calling for a subway.

"We have met with city and TTC to discuss changes to [the] Master Agreement but have not concluded these changes and signed any amendments yet," Anne Marie Aikins said in an e-mail. Asked whether it would be finalized before the election, she said there was no timeframe at present.

Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, who assumed much of Mr. Ford's power last year, acknowledged that the issue is not settled.

"I would hope that, in the end, that the subway would be the choice" he said. "It`s going to be up to the electorate and, I guess, the next mayor to direct that conversation. But … as long as whatever work is being done doesn't detract from a subway, that's fine."

Mr. Byford said they were not "holding back" on the Scarborough project but that they could not ignore that its future could be in flux. "Obviously we are mindful of politics and the potential change," he said.