Province unveils plans to alter four big Toronto transit projects
Joshua Freeman, CP24.com
Published Tuesday, April 9, 2019 9:04PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, April 10, 2019 4:58PM EDT
Premier Doug Ford has unveiled his vision for a transit plan that would introduce some major changes to several transit projects that are already underway in Toronto.
The plan would see the provincial government commit $11.2 billion to an overall plan that would cost $28.5 billion.
The announcement Wednesday includes plans for the downtown relief line, the Scarborough subway extension, the Yonge North subway extension of Line 1, and the Eglinton West LRT project.
The provincial plan would rely heavily on further investment from the federal government, seeking up to 40 per cent of the cost from Ottawa. That 40 per cent stake would include $4.8 billion in previous federal commitments to transit infrastructure in Toronto. The province is hoping that $2.25 billion of the extra $6.6 billion that it wants from Ottawa will come through the green infrastructure stream.
The plan would also rely on “significant investments” from the city of Toronto and York Region.
While the exact numbers have not yet been worked out, Ford said that discussions with the city have been positive so far.
While the premier said that provincial and municipal officials have spent “hundreds” of hours discussing the plan, it’s not clear how much the city knows so far about what the province is asking. Mayor John Tory did not attend Wednesday’s announcement, saying he could not attend an announcement about an infrastructure project that he doesn’t know anything about.
Describing it as “fabulous” and “the best ever,” Ford said the new transit system would serve the GTA for the next 50 to 100 years and added that the province is able to build transit “faster, better, cheaper” than the city.
“We’re going to get the largest system in Canada moving,” Ford said.
Asked what he would do if the federal government does not come to the table with the funds, Ford said the province would be willing to foot the entire bill and said he’d be willing to stake his reputation on the plan.
“If need be, we’ll backstop it ourselves,” he said
Major changes to relief line
Some of the most drastic changes affect the planned downtown relief line.
The provincial plan would rename the relief line “The Ontario Line” and would change the project from a subway line that connects with the rest of the TTC system into a “free-standing transit artery.”
The province says that driverless trains, lighter, smaller and more frequent vehicles and elevated track portions could all be part of the new line.
While it appears that the technology for building the route has not yet been decided, the government says that it will “invite the market” to offer cheaper technologies.
The alignment is also different from what the city has planned so far. Current plans for the downtown relief line envision it running between Pape and Osgoode stations. According to the province, the Ontario Line would connect Ontario Place downtown with the Ontario Science Centre near Don Mills Road and Eglinton Avenue, also connecting at East Harbour GO, Pape, Queen and Osgoode stations.
The line would cost $10.9 billion and would have an estimated completion date of 2027.
The latest estimate for the city’s relief line plan is $7.2 billion. TTC staff have said that they were expecting more detailed design work for the line to be compete early next year, along with an updated cost estimate.
Scarborough subway extension
The province also plans to spend $5.5 billion to build a three-stop subway extension in Scarborough instead of the planned one-stop extension.
“This one’s for you, Rob,” Premier Ford said in a nod to his late brother and former mayor Rob Ford, who championed the idea of building a subway in Scarborough.
The Scarborough extension, as envisioned by the province, would include stops at Lawrence East, Scarborough Town Centre and McCowan Road.
City council had previously considered building the three-stop subway, but had rejected it over cost concerns.
The change would add $1.6 billion to the latest cost estimate for building the one-stop subway. Ford said Wednesday that the province is willing to pay the entire cost of the Scarborough extension if need be.
The estimated completion date for the project would be 2029-2030, according to the province.
Yonge North subway extension
Ford said the extension of Line 1 along Yonge Street from Finch Station to Richmond Hill Centre would be fast-tracked so that it is built concurrently with the Ontario Line.
Various levels of government have committed to eventually building the extension, but the TTC has said that it would not make sense to do so until there is a relief line, as the extension would likely add passengers to an already overwhelmed subway line.
Ford said the $5.6 billion project would only open after the proposed Ontario Line is built.
Eglinton Crosstown West
The provincial plan would alter the planned Eglinton West LRT project so that the line is buried between Royal York Road and Martin Grove Road.
The project would cost $4.7 billion with an estimated completion date of 2031.
The province said that it would like to ultimately connect the line to the airport, but that part is not planned currently.
First part of subway upload coming this spring
The province also says that it will split a planned upload of the TTC subway system into two parts. The first part of the upload would give the province responsibility for building all new subway infrastructure. The province says legislation will be introduced this spring to make that happen.
Discussions would then continue with the city about the upload of existing subway infrastructure, with an aim of introducing legislation to do so sometime next year.
According to a recent report by city staff, the city has already spent roughly $224 million over the past few years on planning for priority transit projects.
It’s not clear how much of that planning is still relevant given the provincial changes. However Ford said Wednesday that none of that work will have been wasted.
“We’re going to utilize every bit of the planning,” he told reporters.
Province says it can build faster, cheaper
According to background documents, provincial officials believe for several reasons that they are better positioned to deliver major transit infrastructure projects than the city is.
Those reasons include the ability to amortize costs over long periods, streamlining of permits and approvals, and the ability to relocate utilities where need be.
“The mayor understands. He doesn’t have the funds,” Ford said.
He reiterated that while he thinks the TTC is good at operating subway systems, he doesn’t think it is good at building them.
“It’s not their fault. They just can’t get it done,” Ford said.
The province believes that it can deliver cheaper transit infrastructure more quickly by changing the delivery method from the tradition plan-bid-build model. The province said it will seek public-private partnerships to try and build some of the new transit infrastructure.
Tory ‘cautiously optimistic’
Responding to the provincial transit proposals at a separate news conference Wednesday, Mayor John Tory said he is “cautiously optimistic” about Ford’s proposals, but said that there are still many questions that need to be answered.
“The best news I heard today was the fact that the province will commit to supporting the same transit lines and projects that Executive Committee endorsed yesterday to receive the $4.8 billion in federal funding that is available right now for transit expansion,” Tory said. “That’s a commitment to working together and it is extremely important and hadn’t previously been agreed to.”
Tory added that having the city and the province on the same page about which transit projects top the list of priorities satisfies a requirement for receiving the federal funding.
Tory said that the initial assessment of the plans by city staff indicates that the province can build on preciously completed design work in order to move forward with the projects.
“Our staff has advised me on a preliminary basis that a good deal of that work will be useful,” Tory said.
While some critics have said they’d like to see Tory push back against provincial encroachments on the city’s transit system, Tory said that his job is to make sure that transit in the city is built without delay and said the province has so far committed to working with the city in a collaborative fashion.
Tory said he is supportive of getting transit projects built in a different way as long as there are no significant delays associated with the delivery of the projects.
“Walking away absolutely ensures that nothing gets built for a very long time,” he said.
He added that in assessing the provincial proposals in greater detail, staff will focus in particular on the technologies being proposed and on whether the changes will delay any of the major projects.
While he stressed that collaboration with other levels of government is the way forward, Tory said that the city must be kept in the loop and said the city still has “pages of questions” when it comes to the details.
“The people of Toronto must be consulted and remain involved – that remains my position,” Tory said.