Battle's on for Toronto transit

[attach]5423[/attach]After igniting a political firestorm at city hall over the fate of transit, TTC Chair Karen Stintz extended an olive branch to Mayor Rob Ford with a proposal to create an advisory panel for efficient rapid transit on Sheppard Avenue.

On Monday, as councillors convened for a special council meeting on transit, the Eglinton-Lawrence rep put forth a two-part motion that asks councillors to affirm their support for the Metrolinx plan for light rail on Finch West, Eglinton Crosstown and in Scarborough. The second part of the motion recommends the establishment of an expert advisory panel to determine how best to proceed with transit on Sheppard. The panel, as Stintz proposed, would be made up of representatives from TTC, Metrolinx, Toronto Board of Trade, former mayor David Crombie, University of Toronto’s Cities Centre director Eric Miller and former councillor Gordon Chong.

Speaking with reporters on a council break, Stintz said she wants to see any plans on Sheppard deferred for further study.

“Given that that was the mayor’s campaign commitment, we do think as a council it’s important that we support the mayor in that campaign commitment, and that we allow him further time and further options to find funding for Sheppard subway,” she said.

Stintz said building the Eglinton Crosstown at-grade in the east could potentially free up $1.9 billion in funding. Some of that money, she said, would go to Finch, while up to $650 million could be devoted to Sheppard.

Stintz and fellow midtown councillors Josh Matlow and John Parker, have made it clear they support a plan to see the Eglinton Crosstown underground in midtown, but travelling at-grade east of Laird, as originally proposed under the now-defunct Transit City plan.

Mayor Ford remains adamant that $8.4 billion earmarked by provincial transit agency Metrolinx go toward building the Eglinton Crosstown completely underground, with any remaining funds going to a Sheppard subway extension.

Mayor Ford ally Denzil Minnan-Wong said the advisory panel on Sheppard as Stintz has proposed would be biased.

“This is a very unusual motion, it doesn’t seem to be very thought-out,” he said. “It looks to suggest that the outcome is already pre-determined based on its membership.”

The Don Valley East rep said it appears the only suggested participant who may have contrary view on the light rail plan is Chong, who was handpicked by the mayor to produce a report on financing options for a Sheppard subway extension. Released last week, the 173-page report said subway along Sheppard could be funded through development, road tolls and parking levies.

Minnan-Wong told reporters he supports the mayor and believes subways are the way to go.

“It may not look like the most cost-effective solution today but 30, 40 years from now, we’ll look at it and we’ll say we made the right decision.”

Also included in Stintz’s motion was recommendations to study the future feasibility of building a subway link westward from Sheppard Station to Downsview Station; extending of the Sheppard LRT to end at the Toronto Zoo, extending of the Bloor-Danforth line from Kennedy Station to Scarborough Town Centre, extending Eglinton Crosstown to Pearson Airport and the construction of a downtown relief line.