Rob Ford would be happy to know that Scarborough is a bit closer to getting "what it deserves", since Toronto City Council has again voted to proceed with a subway to Scarborough Centre. (The late mayor was fond of telling residents, politicians and media that "Scarborough deserves a subway".)

Yesterday, Tuesday, March 28, Council debated for many hours the proposal to extend the Toronto Transit Commission's Line 2 Bloor–Danforth subway one stop northeast of its current terminal at Kennedy Station. The express subway extension would stretch about six kilometres in a tunnel mostly under McCowan Road.

The route of the proposed subway extension is mostly under McCowan Road, image: City of Toronto

Although Council was considering a City staff report that contained a number of contentious issues—including a recommendation to use private-sector resources to help finance and build the line—councillors mostly focused, instead, on the age-old question of whether to build a new subway or a light rail transit line.

Midtown councillor Josh Matlow pointedly asked the City's chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, why she would recommend a subway. Keesmaat replied, "Based on the direction we were given and the fact that we also have SmartTrack in place, then an express subway is the best way to stimulate economic development at Scarborough Centre." (SmartTrack is Mayor John Tory's plan to develop a local rapid transit service along GO Transit lines.)

The City's Scarborough transit plan includes the subway extension, the LRT to U of T and SmartTrack, image: City of Toronto

Matlow is one of the leading advocates for returning to an earlier plan that would have seen a network of LRTs throughout Scarborough. Under that plan, the City would also substitute an LRT for the aging Scarborough Rapid Transit line (SRT), which also connects Kennedy to Scarborough Centre.

The extension of the Crosstown LRT to University of Toronto Scarborough and beyond, image: City of Toronto

When Council originally approved proceeding with the one-stop subway proposal last July, it also approved removing two stops from the extension and using the funds it saved to build an LRT to the University of Toronto's Scarborough campus.

Councillor Janet Davis wondered whether City staff had ever analyzed which line provided the best "value for money"; the subway to Scarborough Centre, or the LRT to U of T.

City manager Peter Wallace replied that Council had never asked staff to compare the two lines in that way, but would, if Council directed him to do so.

Rendering of future Eglinton East LRT station / stop, image: City of Toronto

"Why is the cost-per-kilometre for this line so much higher than the cost-per-kilometre for the extension of Line 1 to Vaughan?", Scarborough Councillor Jim Karygiannis wanted to know. The TTC's chief executive officer Andy Byford explained that the topography for this future line was considerably different than the other line. For one thing, the tunnel has to be much deeper to pass under Highland Creek. That means the stations are deeper too, requiring longer escalators, elevators and staircases. The land for the Line 2 extension is mostly rock, too.

The plan included a two-level bus terminal on Triton Road at Scarborough Centre, image: City of Toronto

Some councillors asked staff to explain the contributions of the federal and provincial governments to the project. Wallace told him that the province had agreed to contribute as much as $1.7 billion for the project. The federal government had also earmarked as much as $8 billion to Ontario transit projects under its infrastructure investment plan. Deputy City Manager John Livey indicated, that based on the City's population and transit ridership, the City of Toronto would gain as much as $4.5 billion to fund local transit projects from that source.

Councillor David Shiner asked staff to include the costs for "roughing-in" a possible future station at Lawrence Avenue East. Staff estimated that this effort would add about $1 million to the total bill for the study.

One Scarborough councillor, Paul Ainslie, remains firmly against the subway proposal. His ward would mostly benefit from the Eglinton East LRT to the university campus and his constituents live far from the subway line. He wanted to make sure that any cost overruns for the subway project wouldn't threaten the future of the LRT line.

The TTC has developed a bus network for the future Scarborough Centre station, image, TTC

Staff have recommended a two-level bus terminal on Triton Road for the Scarborough Centre Station as part of the subway project. The terminal—to cost $187 million—would include 34 bus bays to accommodate TTC, GO, Durham Region Transit and intercity buses. "Would passengers who don't live near the subway have shorter bus rides to get there under this plan?", Parkdale councillor Gord Perks asked. Byford admitted that some passengers would, in fact, have longer bus rides under this plan.

At the end of the debate, Council approved:

  • proceeding with the one-stop express subway plan, including a proposal to seek for private-sector sources to finance and build the line. (Council approved this 26 to 18);
  • protecting the Eglinton East LRT by considering the subway LRT as one project, with staff to report to Council on an LRT construction schedule in early 2018. (Council approved this 33 to 11); and
  • building the two-level bus terminal on Triton Road. (Council approved this 32 to 12).

This rendering illustrates the development potential of the Scarborough Centre area with the subway, image, City of Toronto

Council did not approve Councillor Matlow's motion that staff provide a detailed analysis to compare the subway and LRT plans. (Council voted 27 to 17 against this.) It also defeated Councillor Shiner's motion to design a "roughed-in" future Lawrence station on the extended line. (Council voted 23 to 21 against this.)

With Council approving their recommendations, staff can continue to work on planning the subway. They next report back to council when they've completed 30 percent of the design.

The current budget for the project sits at $3.35 billion, but that figure likely will rise over time. The City must now negotiate with provincial and federal officials to confirm the total amount that the senior levels of government will contribute to the project, so that property taxpayers across the city know soon how much their tax bills will increase to pay for this line.

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