Council approves Scarborough subway items as vote to further compare LRT option fails
Chris Fox, CP24.com
Published Tuesday, March 28, 2017 7:34AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, March 29, 2017 1:10AM EDT
An effort to reopen the debate over the one-stop Scarborough subway extension amid rising costs and lingering questions over how many people it will serve has failed.
City council voted 27-17 against a motion from Coun. Josh Matlow on Tuesday that would have asked staff to prepare an “apples to apples comparison” between the subway extension to the Scarborough Town Centre and a previously abandoned plan to replace the Scarborough RT with a seven-stop light rail transit line.
(See a recap of our live blog below)
Following the vote, Matlow called the decision “reckless and irresponsible” while speaking with reporters.
He said it was “absurd” that the majority of his colleagues voted against a simple plan to get all the facts before proceeding forward with a subway extension that has already seen its budget explode from $2 billion in 2013 to $3.346 billion in 2017.
It should be noted that City Manager Peter Wallace had previously warned that any report comparing the subway extension and the LRT would take at least six months and represent a “significant step back” from the project.
“Why do we pretend that we want to have the facts?” Matlow remarked to reporters following the vote.
The item that was up for consideration at Tuesday’s council meeting actually concerned the proposed alignment of the subway extension along McCowan Road and whether or not to build a below-ground bus terminal that would add $187 million to the overall cost of the project.
Debate, however, mostly focused around whether or not to build the subway extension at all.
During the debate, Coun. Shelley Carroll accused some councilors who have suggested that an LRT will not spur development of being “downright Trumpy” and promoting “alternative facts” while Coun. Jim Karygiannis warned that he and other councillors would remember the efforts of some councilors to halt the project when it comes time to examine future transit projects, such as the much-discussed downtown relief line.
Coun. Gord Perks, meanwhile, dubbed the subway extension a “negative four stop subway” due to the fact that it is replacing the six-stop Scarborough RT.
“As a result of this many people in Scarborough will actually be spending more time on the bus. Nobody will be spending less time,” Perks said, calling the plan a “bad idea.”
Tory says time for debate is over
Proponents of the Scarborough subway extension have said that the new station at Scarborough Town Centre will instantly become the third busiest along Line 2 (behind Kennedy and Bloor-Yonge) but Matlow argued that the projected ridership at the station is largely the result of the fact that it will replace the six-stop Scarborough RT.
Meanwhile, Mayor Tory accused those on council of “re-litigating” a decision that has already been made. He said the time for debate is over.
“I would have been entirely happy if we had a debate today about the bus terminal, that’s a big decision, and yet we didn’t because what was really going on in here was a re-visitation of whether we should build a subway or a LRT. That decision had been made quite a few times,” Tory said.
Following the vote, Tory said that a request for more studies would only amount to never-ending delays in building any sort of transit.
“There have been all kinds of studies. There have been huge debates that took place here about LRT versus subway. There were reports written – you could probably stack them up and they’d stack up to the ceiling about LRTs and subways and all the rest,” Tory told reporters after the vote.
“And I would just say to you that the notion that we’re going to have one more study – I guarantee you that any one more study that was approved today of any kind, whether it was the one that Councillor Matlow was suggesting or not – would have led to a request for another study and another study and another study. And I believe the people of Toronto have said to me and to my colleagues: enough studies.”
LRT was abandoned in 2013
Back in 2013, city council initially voted in favour of a three-stop subway extension to the Scarborough Town Centre, however, in January 2016, the proposal was scaled back to one-stop in order to cut down costs.
At the time, staff estimated that the change would shave about a $1 billion off the price tag for the project, allowing the city to reinvest the savings in the construction of a 17-stop LRT line to the University of Toronto Scarborough campus.
On Tuesday staff admitted that costs escalations on the subway project have now made it impossible to build the LRT within the existing funding window.
Nonetheless, Tory said he remains committed to building the Egllinton East LRT and will use “every ounce of energy” he has to convince Queen’s Park to help fund the project.
“Everybody has lots to say when it comes to dumping on the Scarborough subway extension but when it comes to standing behind the mayor and putting pressure on the province to get the funding we need there seems to be a deafening silence,” he said.
Following a full day of debate, council voted 32-12 in favour of building the underground bus terminal and 26-18 in favour of the proposed alignment of the subway extension along McCowan Road.
The votes mean that the Scarborough subway extension will not be back before council until 30 per cent of its design work is completed, which staff say could happen sometime in the second quarter of 2018. Only about five per cent of the design work for the project has been completed so far.