Eglinton light rail plans ramp up

Mayor-elect Rob Ford has said he will ask the province to reallocate $3.7 billion from the LRT to extending the Sheppard and Bloor line to Scarborough

The province is pushing ahead with planned construction of the Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail Transit line despite an air of uncertainty surrounding the project in the wake of mayor-elect Rob Ford’s landslide win.

“At this point there’s no reason for me to expect that we won’t be going ahead,” Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne said in November.

A central component of Transit City – Toronto’s plan to install light rail lines along key corridors – the Eglinton LRT is part of the province’s ‘five in ten’ strategy to build five key transit infrastructure projects in the GTA over the next 10 years. The first phase of the line is supposed to provide rapid transit stretching from Kennedy to Jane Street.

In July Metrolinx, the provincial body responsible for overseeing Transit City, announced a $54 million contract to purchase four boring machines to dig the tunnel for the Eglinton line, of which 11 kilometres is to be underground.

Then in mid-November, re-elected Ward 26 councillor John Parker circulated a notice from the TTC informing him that preliminary work, such as digging for soil samples, would be carried out in his ward shortly.

All this flies in the face of the transportation plan Ford released in September while the election campaign was still in full swing. Then, he called Transit City “a multibillion dollar disaster.”

Ford said he would instead ask the province to reallocate $3.7 billion from Phase One of the plan toward extending the Sheppard subway line from Downsview to Scarborough Town Centre, as well as extending the Bloor line to Scarborough.

But the Eglinton LRT project alone has already used at least $41.4 million of its allotted funding, while $130 million has so far been spent overall on Toronto’s light rail projects.

“In addition, about $1.3 billion in contracts have been awarded for the projects,” said Vanessa Thomas, a spokesperson for Metrolinx.

That includes $770 million for Bombardier to build the light rail vehicles and $54 million for the four tunnel boring machines for the Eglinton LRT line.

Already the province has indicated it has no stomach to deal with legal wrangling that may ensue if the city suddenly cancels the contracts.

“If city council decided they wanted to break the contracts and incur the costs – and I don’t think anybody knows exactly what those costs would be — then they would be taking that decision upon themselves,” Wynne said. “That’s certainly not a decision that we’ll be supporting.”

But since the election, the Ford transition team has been tight-lipped on all policy matters, including transit. Although his team has been in touch with Metrolinx, Ford and his representatives have declined most interviews, leaving onlookers to speculate as to how he might resolve the contradiction once he takes office Dec. 1.

“We have conflicting signals out there,” said Parker, who backed Ford in the election. “I wouldn’t pre-judge what the new mayor’s position will be once he’s been fully briefed on the matter and has had a chance to look over all of the specifics.”

Parker said adding buses to handle the increasing volume of transit users — a measure proposed by Ford during the election — won’t work.

“Not a chance,” Parker said. “We’ve had buses and they add to the congestion of our traffic.”

He added buses might be acceptable as an interim measure if it meant getting a subway instead of light rail, but not as a long-term plan.

“I think there is strong enthusiasm for rapid transit along Eglinton in one form or another… I don’t quarrel with the Transit City model as currently proposed,” he said.

Despite the uncertainty about how Ford may choose to proceed, Parker said in the final analysis, the mayor’s vote is not the most important one when it comes to transit.

“The fundamental reality that we all come up against at one point or another is that the province controls the purse strings when it comes to large capital funding,” Parker said. “And the province… has indicated that it intends to proceed with the LRT proposal for Eglinton.”

At present, the tunnel boring machines are set to start burrowing along Eglinton Ave. in Spring 2012.

About this article:

By: Joshua Freeman
Posted: Nov 24 2010 12:26 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto