This week, Toronto Mayor John Tory's signature SmartTrack transit plan started heading down the line from drawing board to reality. Although the plan is now less "smart" than when Tory originally proposed it as a mayoral candidate—it's smaller, more expensive and will take longer to build—City Council has finally made sure that some of the proposal will end up serving transit passengers in Toronto.
The original SmartTrack proposal, image, City of Toronto
During a nine-hour debate, Tuesday, November 8, Council approved an agreement with the Province of Ontario to share costs for what's left of the original SmartTrack plan and other transit projects, worth a total of $11 billion. Metrolinx, the province's regional transit agency, gave the City a deadline of November 30 to approve the plan, because it wants to start working on designing and building the stations. The new stations will all form part of GO Transit's Regional Express Rail (or RER) program of rapid all-day, two-way service along all GO train lines.
Under the plan that Council approved, the City agreed to pay:
- the capital costs for building six new GO stations in Toronto, on the Stouffville line at Finch and Lawrence Avenues East, on the Stouffville and Lakeshore lines at Gerrard Street East / Carlaw Avenue and at "East Harbour" (the Unilever site) near Eastern and Broadview Avenues, and on the Kitchener line on King Street West near Liberty Village and near St. Clair Avenue West / Keele Street. These stations—all that's left of SmartTrack—will likely cost the City $3.7 billion.
SmartTrack and regional express rail stations, image, City of Toronto
- the capital costs for extending the Crosstown LRT further west along Eglinton Avenue West between Mount Dennis and the Renforth Gateway Station on the Mississauga Transitway. The cost of this is $2.5 billion. The City also hopes to extend this line to Toronto Pearson International Airport and intends to formally ask the City of Mississauga and the Greater Toronto Airports Authority to contribute as much as $470 million to complete this part of the future line.
- the costs to operate and maintain light rail transit lines that Metrolinx is building or will build in Toronto, including the Crosstown, Finch West and Sheppard East lines. It's not clear how much this will cost the city, but the TTC will set the fares and receive the revenues from those fares. The new lines will also likely increase transit ridership, so the City will gain more revenue from these new passengers. The City and TTC may also save money, since the LRTs will reduce the need for buses in the area that they serve. The province is paying 100 per cent of the capital costs to build and maintain the original Crosstown line (between Mount Dennis and Kennedy) and the entire Finch West line. The provincial and federal governments are sharing the capital costs for building the Sheppard East line.
- 15 per cent of the costs for building several "grade separations"—bridges—where major roadways cross GO corridors to help Metrolinx implement its RER network. Fifteen percent of these costs is about $62 million.
- $60 million to improve GO stations and other infrastructure for RER. This proposal also allows GO to build two more new stations—not part of the SmartTrack scheme—on the Barrie line near Spadina Avenue and Front Street, and near Bloor Street West and Lansdowne Avenue.
Although staff recommended that City Council approve the agreement with the Province, the staff report that Council considered did not specifically recommend a way for the City to pay for all of this.
Although news reports have suggested that the City would have to increase property taxes by 2.5 percent to fund all of these transit projects, Mayor Tory is adamant that he won't be doing that. Council expects to review another report from staff next month that will suggest a number of "revenue tools" to help the City meet its capital needs for these and other projects. That report will likely recommend a hotel tax, more fees and tolls, and tax increment financing that some councillors may favour, and also propose to raise property taxes which the mayor and other councillors will likely oppose.
That lack of financial clarity threatened to scuttle the whole plan, as Councillor Janet Davis proposed that Council defer approving the staff report until February. By that time, she said, Council will—hopefully—have approved all or many of the new funding sources that the City will require to meet its commitments to these projects. However, Council decided it didn't need this clarity to proceed, and defeated Davis' motion by 11-32.
The City is also banking on the federal government fulfilling its promise to fund transit infrastructure. If the Government of Canada comes on board as a partner on many of these projects, the City will need to contribute less of its own funds.
First Gulf, the developer of the East Harbour (Unilever) site has expressed its support for Council approving the agreement. It sent a letter to Council, through the City Clerk, to advise Councillors that it would help pay for construction of the new station at its site, which, it says, would be the first time that a private developer has partnered with the City and Province to build transit infrastructure.
This report does not affect the City's previous decision to extend the TTC's Line 2 (Bloor – Danforth) subway to Scarborough Centre, nor other future transit proposals, including the proposed Relief Line subway, the eastern extension of the Crosstown LRT to the University of Toronto's Scarborough campus or any rapid transit lines on Toronto's waterfront. Council will discuss its plans and funding for those other future transit lines in the future.
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