Mayor John Tory says a revised plan for the Scarborough subway extension that will scrap two of the three planned stations and reinvest $1 billion in savings into the construction of a light rail transit line will allow the city to finally “get on” with the project.

The plan, which is detailed in a staff report that was released Thursday as part of the agenda for next week’s executive committee meeting, calls for a route running directly from Kennedy Station to the Scarborough Town Centre along McCowan Road, eliminating previously planned stations for Sheppard and Lawrence avenues.

According to the staff report, the change will shave about a $1 billion off the $3.5 billion price tag for the project, allowing the city to reinvest that money in the construction of an 17-stop LRT line to the University of Toronto Scarborough campus. That LRT, the staff report notes, would connect to both Eglinton and Guildwood GO stations while travelling through five areas which have been designated by the city as neighbourhood improvement areas — Eglinton East, Kennedy Park, Morningside, Scarborough Village and West Hill.

The city designates improvement areas based on the socio-economic makeup of the communities, typically choosing neighbourhoods that lack resources.

“I have been firm in my resolve to build a Bloor-Danforth subway extension in Scarborough and that will happen but it will happen in a way that reflects the expert advice we asked for and received and the improvements we can offer based on sound planning, careful data analysis and real insight into how the people of Scarborough travel and what they actually need,” Mayor Tory told reporters at a news conference at city hall on Thursday afternoon. “This has the potential to transform a region of our city that is current vastly underserved by transit, to attract jobs and investment and help to bring the city together around an efficient well planned transit network.”

The staff report, which was prepared by Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat, suggests that the revised plan for the subway extension satisfies the city’s two main transit priorities for Scarborough, which are to “support the development of Scarborough Centre as a vibrant urban node” and to “improve local accessibility,” specifically along Eglinton Avenue and Kingston Road.

The report also says that the LRT and subway extension combined with a future SmartTrack station on Lawrence Avenue East will provide Scarborough residents with much more access to rapid transit than a three-stop subway extension would have.

In fact, the report says that 63,961 people will live within 500 metres of both the LRT and subway stations compared to only 13,943 with the three-stop subway extension. The report also points out that 27,737 jobs will be within 500 metres of stations under the new plan compared to only 22,875 under the old plan. The revised plan will also provide Scarborough residents with access to more jobs within a 45-minute commute than the three-stop subway extension (19,333 versus 11,667).

“The aforementioned transit priorities for Scarborough are somewhat distinct from one another and not easily addressed by a single rapid transit line,” the report states. “This optimized solution better serves Scarborough residents in all facets, by serving Scarborough Centre with frequent, high capacity transit aimed at enhancing this key activity node, and by providing strategic linkages through the rest of Scarborough.”

Lawrence, Sheppard stations ‘not justified’

The initial plan for the Scarborough subway would have seen the line travelling along Eglinton Avenue from Kennedy Station before veering up McCowan Road and making stops at Lawrence Avenue, the Scarborough Town Centre and then terminating at Sheppard Avenue.

The staff report however, points out that the planned stations at both Lawrence and Sheppard avenues would be in areas with “little development potential,” would be too close to the planned SmartTrack station for Lawrence Avenue East and would not have adequate connections to existing bus routes.

“I am satisfied that the other two stations are not justified at this time,” Tory told reporters on Thursday. “Their construction would need to be proceeded by an additional intensification and viable connections to other transit lines, pre-requisites that are not currently borne out by the facts.”

Subway extension has been controversial

The debate over the Scarborough subway extension has been among the most polarizing debates at city hall in recent years.

Initially council approved a seven-stop, provincially-funded light rail transit line for the borough but when former Mayor Rob Ford assumed office he declared the idea dead and eventually convinced council to support the three-stop extension of the Bloor Danforth line into Scarborough.

Then when Tory assumed office a number of councillors called on him to revisit that decision but he refused, telling the Toronto Sun in June that “it would be going back to the old Toronto way to say we’re going to re-debate it, re-decide it, revisit it, re-discuss it.”

Sitting down with CP24 for a one-on-one interview Thursday morning prior to the release of the report, Tory rejected a suggestion that the new subway represents a drastic shift from his campaign promise to not reopen the debate into the project.

Tory also added that he believes the revised vision will “carry a much broader consensus at city council,” allowing the project to get built sooner.

“I campaigned on a subway to Scarborough and the last time I checked this plan has a subway to Scarborough,” he said. “It is a subway that I think is more sensible based on expert evidence which is how I am trying to make decisions for the people of Toronto.”

Though it remains to be seen whether this latest vision for the Scarborough subway will get the support it needs at city council, deputy mayor and longtime Scarborough subway advocate Glenn De Baeremaeker told reporters at city hall that he sees the new plan as “peace treaty” that will allow councillors to “actually build transit together and stop fighting.”

“This is a staff report that to my surprise is not the plan that I and my other councillors fought for but it is a plan that includes a subway all the way up to Scarborough Town Centre, a SmartTrack station that will allow Scarborough residents get downtown faster and a LRT line from Kennedy Station all the way out to the Scarborough campus of U of T,” he said. “The staff have put together a better package than we got approved at council and I as the subway advocate have to acknowledge the facts and the truth.”

The original timeline for the Scarborough subway extension was 12 years, however Tory told reporters on Thursday that his hope is it will now be built sooner.

Tory said it could be sped up because the planned LRT is largely in line with the one that was backed by former mayor David Miller as part of his “Transit City” initiative and thus has already underwent a number of studies and an environmental assessment.

“I would just say to the people of Scarborough that help is on the way,” Tory said.

Former mayor says new plan ‘not rapid transit’

Toronto’s former mayor was quick to weigh in on the revised plan.

In a statement release issued early Thursday evening, Coun. Rob Ford slammed the new plan, which he said was not in fact rapid transit.

“If it’s not off street level, it’s no better than a bus or a streetcar,” he said.

“The idea is just like SmartTrack, scribbled on the back of a napkin, and will just cause further delays in the building of the Scarborough Subway.”

Ford also called into question the authority by which a report that was supposed to provide a status update on a council-approved project could “suddenly gut the project and go against council’s decision.”

“The people of Scarborough are tired of second-class transit, they are tired of being treated like second-class citizens, they need a proper subway,” Ford said.

Province remains committed to project

The province of Ontario is expected to pay about $1.5 billion of the cost for the project while the federal government is expected to contribute $660 million. The city is financing its share of the cost through a property tax levy, which is being phased in over a three-year period.

According to a statement from Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca, the provincial government “remains steadfast” in its financial commitment to the Scarborough subway extension.

“What Torontonians and all GTHA residents want is for governments to get shovels in the ground and deliver more transit service as soon as possible,” the statement reads.

The city plans to hold a number of public consultations on the new vision for the Scarborough subway in February.