The Globe & Mail’s Adrian Morrow:
Karen Stintz argues it makes more sense to put the LRT underground only along the most congested part of the route, in midtown, while building it on the surface in the spacious suburbs.
“If the decision is to go with an LRT, it should be at-grade,” she said. “If there’s a decision to put it underground, it should be a subway.”
At this point, this issue seems to have enough critical mass to make some serious waves at council. I don’t believe the mayor would win the resulting vote if he worked up the courage to ask council to endorse current transit plans.
Morrow states rather emphatically that “any rethink on the [Eglinton] line, however, would lead to further delays.” But a report by the Star’s Tess Kalinowski disagrees: “if the TTC returned to the original environmental studies for surface LRT – part of former mayor David Miller’s Transit City plan – there would be no delay.”
For what it’s worth, Steve Munro seems to agree with the Star. Last week, he speculated that the province “wants to keep their options open as long as possible depending on whatever position Council eventually takes.” Because, for them, not having to do new design work for the tunnel and stations along the eastern section should actually save time and money. And with an in-median route, there’d be no question about how to deal with those sneaky goddamned valley crossings which are vexing the hell out of engineers.
The best — and most obvious — outcome of all this would be for council to endorse moving the eastern section of Eglinton back to the surface and using the savings (which should approach anywhere from $1 billion to $2 billion) to build some form of higher order transit on Finch West. The LRT design for that corridor is sitting on a shelf somewhere and it wouldn’t take much to put those wheels in motion once again. (Last year, David Miller described reactivating the project as like flicking a switch, which is probably overly simplistic. But not too far off.)
Still, there’s reason to be concerned that we’ll just go from one goofy transit plan to another with this move. In her interview with Kalinowski this morning, Stintz floated the idea of using the savings from un-burying Eglinton to build the mayor’s desired Sheppard extension.
Not only does the Sheppard subway offer far less in terms of cost-benefit than the Finch route — any subway extension will add way more to long-term operating costs than surface LRT –, such a move would also seem to require the city to renegotiate the agreement they made with the province last year with their Memorandum of Understanding.
In that memo — which famously was never approved by council, even though it was supposed to be — the province pegged their maximum contribution to the Sheppard project at $650 million. And they said that the money would only materialize should Metrolinx come in under budget on the $8.4 billion Eglinton project. (This past summer, the mayor sat down with Dalton McGuinty to try to get him to release that money ahead of schedule. The premier, more or less, told the mayor to get bent.)
But Rob Ford can be stubborn, and reports out of the mayor’s office are that he’s not shown much willingness to compromise on his Sheppard Subway campaign pledge. Trying to get the province to agree to devote more funds to Sheppard is likely to cause further undue delays as things get sorted out. Meanwhile, riders on crazy overcrowded bus routes will continue to suffer.
Another reason to worry: there’s a small-but-terrifying chance that the province — which is flirting with big-time austerity measures at the moment — may seize on this debate as a golden opportunity to decrease their total financial commitment to transit in Toronto. Queen’s Park has to be getting nervous about their capital commitments beyond 2015, when the bulk of this spending is due, and a fractured and indecisive council is only going to embolden Metrolinx to swoop in and start tinkering with Toronto’s transit plans.
So here’s the plea to council: get the transit file in order soon. Find a plan that works for a strong majority of people across Toronto and that fits within the current funding envelope. Then tell the province, unequivocally, that this is what Toronto needs.
Then just build the damn thing.