Late Wednesday, Rob Ford stood at the corner of Eglinton & Victoria Park and spoke about Scarborough’s “congested and jammed up” streets. That traffic — which, oddly, looked to be moving pretty well on the street behind him — was cited as the reason the Eglinton LRT must be buried through its eastern end.
He was supported in his comments by seven of the ten members of Scarborough Community Council, all of whom apparently find sense in the idea of spending $2 billion to put the Eglinton LRT underground, even though the decision means there won’t be any capital money for transit improvements on other busy routes across the city.
(A few of those seven Scarborough councillors were listed as ‘undecided’ on the scorecard I posted earlier this week. I’ve since updated it. Of the six remaining undecided votes, Jaye Robinson, Gloria Lindsay Luby and James Pasternak are the most likely to support the vision pushed by Karen Stintz.)
Ford’s office has opted to defend their position on transit on two fronts.
First, they’ve attempted to paint those who would alter the mayor’s Eglinton plan as anti-Scarborough. The argument goes something like this: supporters of a broad plan that builds higher order transit on multiple corridors are obviously just looking to stick Scarborough with crappy streetcars for years to come.
In this vein, Inside Toronto’s Mike Adler quotes presumably-yelling Scarborough Councillor Norm Kelly: “Wake up Toronto! Scarborough’s sick and tired of being ignored.” And then: “we’ve just begun to fight.”
Kelly voted in favour of Transit City repeatedly while a member of David Miller’s Executive Committee. He also approved the Transit City projects as part of Metrolinx’s Regional Transportation plan when he sat on that agency’s board of directors.
But, in fairness, that was like three years ago.
At least he’s not as flip-floppy as Councillor Michael Thompson, who went from telling Inside Toronto’s David Nickle on January 23 that it “makes sense to consider putting the [Eglinton LRT] above ground” to a signed letter of support for Rob Ford’s plan on February 1. A lot can happen in a week.
On their second defensive front, Ford and his allies are trying to refocus attention away from the Eglinton project and onto the Sheppard Subway. This whole brouhaha seems to have inspired the mayor to release Gordon Chong’s long-awaited report, which the Toronto Star’s David Rider notes is 188-pages long. It’ll go to Executive Committee on February 13, after which it should head to council.
The report is being spun as a victory for Ford — proof that the transit file isn’t a total mess — but even the Toronto Sun spin machine can’t hide the fact that this is a report that essentially says we can’t have any subway extension without new user fees, tolls and taxes.
The Toronto Sun’s Don Peat:
Chong recommended pursing the project in two stages, starting with the extension of the line to the Scarborough Town Centre.
He added that project could be completed for $2.7 billion. However, bids to construct that portion of the line could possibly come 20% to 30% under that price tag, said Chong.
The Sheppard should then be extended west from Yonge St. to Downsview at a cost of $1 billion, according to Chong.
He suggested there are a variety of revenue tools, including road tolls and parking levies, that could be used to raise enough money to fill a projected $1 billion funding gap for the project.
The Toronto Star’s Michael Woods has a full list of the revenue-generating proposals in the report. Woods notes that almost all of them are “contradictory to Mayor Rob Ford’s low-tax, car-friendly philosophy.” That’s actually an optimistic take: when rumours circulated that Chong’s report would recommend tolls this past summer, Ford called the idea “nonsense.”
Also of note: it was just a couple of months ago that Chong seemed rather blasé about the privately-fueled Sheppard Subway proposal. He estimated then that the private sector would pay only 10-30% of the total project cost, and to get that the city would need to fund further studies priced at $10 million or more. The project seemed a bit stalled, as he told the Star’s David Rider: “The question is how long I stay [working on this project] if we didn’t make any progress.”
Now, two months later, after a contentious budget battle that the mayor mostly lost and amidst whispers that councillors are preparing to call a special council meeting to force a vote on transit, we get word of this: a new, positive report claiming the private sector will fund 60% of the cost of the subway, which could come in $1 billion less than expected.
Seems pretty convenient.