Last year, Mayor John Tory famously declared, "It is time that… I stop being treated, as a little boy going up to Queen’s Park in short pants to say, ‘Please, could you help me out with something…' and to be told, ‘No, I’m terribly sorry, go away and come back some other day.'" He was referring to Premier Kathleen Wynne's nixing of a City of Toronto plan to improve Toronto transit through road-toll funds.
Last week, when meteorologists were promising shorts-wearing weather, "some other day" finally appeared on the calendar. The mayor donned a suit with long pants to meet the premier at a provincial facility to officially receive joint federal and provincial funds for local transit projects. Tory and Wynne visited Metrolinx's Willowbrook train maintenance and storage facility to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to advance the SmartTrack program of frequent rapid transit along GO Transit rail corridors in the city. Premier Wynne also announced funding—totalling as much as $9 billion—to support other transit projects including the relief line subway, a northern extension of the Yonge subway to Richmond Hill and a waterfront light rail transit line. The Government of Canada is supplying about $4.8 billion of the $9-billion sum.
Under the MOU, the city will pay for building six SmartTrack stations along the Stouffville, Lakeshore East and Kitchener GO lines. The new stations will open by 2025 as part of the Metrolinx plan to offer regional express rail (RER) service along many of its lines. With RER, GO will provide frequent all-day, two-way every-day service. The new SmartTrack stations will offer commuters even more frequent service through Toronto—possibly every 5.5 to ten minutes during rush hours.
During its meeting of April 24 to 27, City Council approved the capital costs for the six SmartTrack stations—as much as $1.46 billion. Of that total, Toronto is contributing $878 million, while the remaining $585 million would likely come from a federal government transit fund. The city proposes raising some of the cost with a tax increment financing (TIF) scheme. Under that plan, it's designating certain areas near the SmartTrack stations as TIF zones, where land values would likely increase due to proximity to rapid transit. The city proposes borrowing money to help fund the project, expecting that its property tax revenues from the TIF zones will increase. Then, it will dedicate the extra taxes it receives from those lands to repay its loans to build the project.
Other city funds for SmartTrack would derive from a special transit levy that the city created in 2014 to help pay for projects like this one.
After years of sitting on the shelf gathering dust, the Relief Line plan is, instead, quickly gathering steam and the provincial/federal monies that Wynne announced will continue its forward momentum. Late last month, the City joined Metrolinx and the TTC to host open houses so the public could review their plans for the south end of the line between Pape Station on the TTC's Bloor-Danforth subway and Osgoode Station on the Yonge-University subway. Since city council finalized the alignment and station locations in December, these events allowed residents and business owners to review preliminary plans for each of the stations and how construction of the new line might affect them and their property.
A week before that, Metrolinx took the lead with its partners to hold public information events on how to extend that line even further north—perhaps as far as Sheppard Avenue, where it might connect with the Sheppard subway.
The southern Relief Line project is partially intended to relieve overcrowding at the major junction at Bloor-Yonge station and most downtown Yonge-University line stations south of there. The northern part of the project is crucial to relieving stress on stations north of Bloor-Yonge, where growing numbers of passengers are congesting efficient operation of the line.
Extending the future Relief Line northward is also essential to propelling another project that the MOU funding supports—extending the Yonge subway beyond Finch Station into Richmond Hill. That project would add another five stations to the line and would swamp the line with too many passengers unless the Relief Line can be opened to Sheppard at the same time to offer north-end commuters an alternative for travelling to and from downtown.
The opposite, southern end of Toronto benefits from the senior governments' recent infrastructure largess, too, as the MOU also allocates funding for light rail transit along the waterfront between Long Branch and Woodbine Avenue. Early plans include a mix of new and current light-rail transit tracks along separate rights-of-way and sections where LRT cars would move in mixed traffic. The city has also yet to finalize what role the streetcar tunnel to and from Union Station would play in the scheme.
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