Transit will be front and centre in council chambers and on campaign trail in 2018
Chris Fox, CP24.com
Published Monday, January 1, 2018 9:26AM EST
Mayor Tory is fond of saying that he is “committed to getting Toronto moving” and with a municipal election scheduled for October that rhetoric is likely only to intensify in 2018, a year in which transit should be a hot topic on the campaign trail and in council chambers.
“SmartTrack” will be back before council sometime in the spring, as part of the “Stage Gate” process that was set up to ensure that there would be opportunities to re-evaluate the projects at various points along the decision making process. At that time, councillors will be asked to approve the procurement process and capital construction budget for six new stations that are being built along existing GO Transit lines, though one of those stations – Lawrence East- remains the subject of a Metrolinx review that was ordered after it was revealed that staff initially recommended that the station not be built due to poor ridership projections.
The debate over a 10-stop LRT along Eglinton West, which is part of the “SmartTrack” plan, should also heat up in 2018 and could provide political fodder on the campaign trail. During the last mayoral campaign Tory promised to build a heavy-rail line along the corridor, with parts of it underground, but staff subsequently endorsed a less costly LRT which would be built entirely above ground. Tory, however, pushed for a working group to be struck to explore the possibility of tunneling or having grade-separations for the part of the line travelling through Etobicoke. That decision prompted Coun. Josh Matlow to accuse Tory of pursuing a “pie in the sky fantasy idea” that the city doesn’t have money for and Coun. Joe Cressy to lament the sometimes “nutty” decision making process at city hall. Mayoral candidate Doug Ford, meanwhile, took the opposite tact and slammed Tory for having no intention of actually burying the Eglinton LRT.
“Let’s stop the talking and lets start the digging,” Ford said in November.
Scarborough subway debate not going away
While “SmartTrack” inches closer to reality – staff are currently estimating that it could be up and running in 2024 – debate will also continue on another project that is much further along in the planning process.
The design work on the one-stop extension of the Boor-Danforth line to the Scarborough Town Centre is expected to reach the 30 per cent completion threshold sometime in late 2018, allowing staff to provide council with an updated cost estimate.
The cost of the extension has already increased from $2 billion to $3.35 billion and in December then TTC CEO Andy Byford told the Globe and Mail that the debate over the project may have to be reopened if the cost ends up exceeding the $3.56-billion that has been set aside for the project.
Meanwhile, councillors like Josh Matlow continue to push for the revival of an abandoned plan to build a seven-stop light rail line in Scarborough instead. Earlier this month, Matlow moved a motion calling for a “value for money” comparison of the subway extension and the LRT but the idea was ultimately rejected after some councllors accused Matlow of working to delay a project that has already been voted on a dozen times.
Following the vote, Matlow took to Twitter with this message, in perhaps a preview of what is to come for the Scarborough subway debate:
“I’ve learned there are consequences for demanding honesty and accountability at city hall. But I won’t stop,” he said.
Planning work to continue on relief line
In May, council approved the proposed alignment for the downtown relief subway line, allowing work to begin on the environmental assessment process.
Though money for the project has not yet been set aside, staff continue planning work that has been made possible through the allocation of $150 million in funding from Queen’s Park.
City staff have also indicated that Toronto is likely to receive nearly $5 billion from the federal government’s transit infrastructure fund, money that could be put towards the project.
The first phase of the relief line – estimated at $6.8 billion – isn’t likely to come before council until the current planning work is done in late 2019 but you can expect that it will be the subject of much political wrangling on the campaign trail.
The question of how a new provincial government could affect the relief line also could be answered in 2018.
Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown has vowed to take over responsibility for the operation of the TTC’s subway lines if he is elected in June, precisely to ensure that needed projects like the relief line get built.
“The reality is that the city can’t amortize costs over a period of time like the province can and that is one of the reasons that we talk and talk and talk about these subways and they don’t get built,” Brown told CP24 last month. “What I am saying is that we are going to make sure that these signature projects get built.”
Fate of King Street pilot to be decided
Though its fate may not be decided in 2018, a clearer picture will certainly emerge around the effectiveness of an ambitious plan to remake King Street between Bathurst and Jarvis street.
The $1.5 million pilot project is scheduled to run no later than Dec. 31, 2018, though it could end earlier than that.
In the interim, the city will be releasing data on a monthly basis that should inform the debate over whether or not to make the changes permanent.
The project could also be front and centre during the election campaign with Doug Ford calling it a “complete disaster” and vowing to cancel it if elected mayor.
Tory, meanwhile, has pointed to improved streetcar times as proof that the project is having its intended effect.
Data released earlier this month indicated that commute times on the 504 streetcar have improved by up to two-and-a-half minutes on average since the launch of the pilot project.