Despite sparse public details about the Ontario government’s recently unveiled Ontario Line and other GTA transit expansion plans, city staff are calling on council to potentially allocate nearly $4 billion to the proposals.
The recommendation comes in a new report from city manager Chris Murray, which also suggests the city “enter into discussions on cost-sharing, roles and responsibilities and governance, including the reimbursement for costs should transit plans change.”
If the city and TTC wind up satisfied with the province’s pitch, the report recommends the city consider allocating part of its pool of federal funding to several of the provincial government’s priority projects — including $0.66 billion for a three-stop Scarborough subway extension, shifting from the city’s one-stop plan, and roughly $3.2 billion for the Ontario Line, instead of the in-motion south relief line.
“The fact that we would even consider endorsing that plan is absurd,” Coun. Josh Matlow, a long-time critic of the Scarborough subway extension, told CBC Toronto.
“I agree that we should be asking them questions. I agree that we should be pressing them on the technical details,” he continued.
“But let’s start with that.”
The new report outlines 61 “preliminary” technical questions the city has for the province, including whether or not provincial transit agency Metrolinx is preparing a business case analysis for each project and when these would be reported to its board.
Other questions surround cost and schedule estimates, what impact the projects would have on both the city and the TTC’s transit network, and what existing planning work could be used for the new proposals.
The city also wants to know the province’s plan for public consultation.
With no answers to those questions yet, Matlow said the report’s recommendations are leading the city towards “capitulation” to Premier Doug Ford’s government and potentially “wasting billions of dollars.”
In particular, Matlow slammed the notion of shifting any funding to the province’s proposed three-stop subway.
“For the same city money, we could build 24 LRT stations … It could change lives, if we invest that money properly,” he said.
City has 60+ technical questions for province
The recommendations were released publicly roughly four hours into Tuesday’s council meeting, and shortly after the start of a preplanned 1:30 p.m. press conference with Mayor John Tory.
Matlow called that tight timeline a “pressure-cooker” situation, where councillors had to digest the detailed 15-page report just two hours before debate was set to begin in council chambers.
During his midday remarks, Tory maintained councillors would have enough time to read Murray’s recommendations, and reiterated his desire to remain at the table with the province given the large number of unanswered questions around the Ford government’s transit plans.
He also stressed no money is currently being allocated, with any funding being conditional on an “extensive review” of proposed projects like the Ontario Line.
The Ford government unveiled that 15-kilometre line — stretching between Ontario Place and the Ontario Science Centre — as part of its announcement last week regarding its nearly $30 billion Toronto-area transit expansion plan.
Meant to replace the proposed downtown relief subway line to ease what Ford calls “dangerous congestion,” the proposed $11-billion “game changer” will be double the length of what the city envisioned.
But details are slim on the exact type of technology the province hopes to use, the finalized stations, and what the project would mean for the millions already spent on the relief line plans.
So far, the city has spent a total of roughly $224 million on multiple Toronto transit projects, and city staff have previously raised concerns that changing in-motion plans could lead to cost overruns or delays.
The current one-stop Scarborough subway extension, for instance, is ready to proceed to the construction phase and is now expected to cost nearly $4 billion.
The province’s three-stop proposal would cost an estimated $5.5 billion and wouldn’t be ready until 2030, four years after the aging Scarborough RT is slated to go offline.
Overall, the Ford government has committed to spending $11.2 billion — more than one-third of the total cost — on its four priority projects, which also include extensions to the Yonge subway heading north and the Eglinton Crosstown light rail line heading west.
If other level of governments can’t or won’t contribute their share, Ford has also pledged to have the province take on the full cost.
But at the same time, the province has also killed a major transit funding source for the city by cancelling the planned hike to municipalities’ share of gas tax revenue — reneging on a campaign promise the PCs made last year.
That change will result in a loss of $1.1 billion in funding to the city over the next decade, of which $585 million had already been applied for TTC repairs, Murray notes in his new report.
Both the city and TTC will take that into consideration “in ongoing discussions with the Province on cost-sharing, roles and responsibilities on funding the existing transit network,” Murray wrote.