The transit file has reared its ugly head yet again.
During Tuesday’s podcast of On the Ledge podcast with Dave Trafford, John Wright and Keith Leslie, they discussed how the Provincial Tories have an opportunity to stake their claim and become a “Legacy Government” on the transportation – namely transit, infrastructure, health care, and education files. Two things stood out for me during the podcast.
First, was the panel’s assumption that the Conservatives, namely Premier Doug Ford, is seemingly amenable to above ground transit technology, aka light rail transit.
Second, with respect to the subway upload, the assertion is that the upload is for the design and build of future subway lines and not existing ones. Dave Trafford confirmed with the Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek this morning on the Moore in the AM radio talk show that the Province, ie Metrolinx, would also include maintenance. Maintenance does take up a considerable chunk out of a transit system’s budget. Therefore, the proposed upload could entail the TTC maintaining and operating the existing network, while only operating the newer systems.
Well, not so fast.
As fast as the news cycle turns these days, later in the afternoon the City of Toronto released a letter co-signed by the Deputy Minister of Transportation and the Provincial Special Advisor on the Transit Upload. In the letter, they provided 4 priority transit projects: Reverting back to a 3-stop Scarborough (Line 2) Subway Extension, Relief Line South, Eglinton West LRT Phase 2 to Pearson Airport, and the Yonge North (Line 1) extension to Richmond Hill. There was no mention of SmartTrack, Harbourfront East or Finch West LRTs.
SmartTrack is Mayor John Tory’s plan with which the previous Liberal Government incorporated. This not only allowed for a compromise to build the Scarborough extension but add more local stops on the GO Regional Express Rail (RER) network. My thinking here is that in order to incorporate the additional two stops, one or two Scarborough stops would have to be eliminated. The Lawrence East station was already contentious as was bound for elimination anyway. Adding transit station infrastructure to the GO network would have been less expensive than building the two stops. The last estimated cost of a 3-stop extension was at $4.6 billion with costs rising to about $7 million annually. Strategically thinking, the cancellation of the Scarborough stops would only shave a small portion of the cost off, but a could be deemed a political win for the “taxpayer”. Messaging counts.
As for the Eglinton West LRT, the Province proposes that a significant portion be underground instead of above ground – counter to Trafford and gang’s assessment. For those familiar with traveling on Eglinton Avenue west of Jane Street, there are significant portions of the corridor wide enough to accommodate a centre-running right of way. Of course, the proposed route runs through a significant part of Etobicoke which is higher income and has Richview High School within proximity. Much of the corridor within Etobicoke is already slated for higher-density development. Now transit visibility and keeping automobile access are key, especially since that is his riding. This is about appeasing to his old-money WASPY Conservative base. Similar to that for the Yonge North Subway extension.
Finally, with the Province proposing to “investigate” alternative delivery methods and an approach to creating a “free-standing” project, this will further delay the already desperately long overdue subway line. While the only alternative mode would be using LRT technology similar to the Eglinton Crosstown, I believe it is politico-speak to say the line would be contracted out to a private operator. On point with the right-leaning Conservative ideology.
This subtle messaging within the letter was meant to satisfy the Conservatives and parade around how they are saving taxpayers’ money. Meanwhile, reverting to old plans is not only shows signs of a lack of leadership, but it is also a stall tactic. Similar to administrations before the Progressive Conservatives. These new plans would require new environmental assessments further delaying the projects themselves. If it is about the passenger, then determine which transit projects are shovel ready, get Infrastructure Ontario and the Federal Infrastructure back on board to fund and build, and if the party is going to be so “legendary”, then allow for alternative revenue tools to pay for these projects.
Legends and letters alright.
(NB: So much for local and recent transit knowledge huh?)