Sheppard subway or bust

James Pasternak says he’ll fight any plan to put light rail on Sheppard when council votes on it this month.

“My position has always been that we’ve already invested over a billion dollars into subway on Sheppard,” he says. “To go backward and try and plug LRT into both those routes, it’s just highly misguided and I would vigorously fight against it.”

The York Centre rep said it makes sense to operate the Eglinton Crosstown light rail on the surface in the east but run subways on Sheppard.

Pasternak is advocating for a seamless, continuous route from Downsview Station to Scarborough Town Centre. Currently, the five-station Sheppard subway operates from Yonge Street to Don Mills Road.

“I’ve always felt that you have to have a buried subway over that stretch,” Pasternak said, adding it would relieve pressure from the Yonge-University-Spadina line, which is currently being extended north to Vaughan.

Last month Pasternak voted with a slim majority of councillors to save $2 billion of the $8.4 billion in dedicated provincial funds by building the Eglinton-Scarborough Crosstown at-grade east of Brentcliffe Road.

About $1 billion will go toward the creation of light rail on Finch West and the conversion of the Scarborough RT to light rail, leaving another $1 billion for Sheppard.

An advisory panel is to present recommendations on how to build transit on Sheppard at a March 21 special meeting of council.

Pasternak’s stance on Sheppard falls more in line with Mayor Rob Ford and fellow North York councillor David Shiner, who both favour subterranean transit projects.

But critics say the mayor has yet to present a viable funding plan for a subway on Sheppard, which would require about $4.7 billion.

A report from former councillor Gordon Chong last month indicated the city has various funding options, including development charges, parking levies and road tolls.

On Feb. 29, Ford held a closed-door meeting with Chong, several councillors, representatives of the development industry, Build Toronto and city staff to discuss the fast-tracking of Sheppard Avenue subway to council, said Shiner, who attended the lunchtime meeting.

City staff discussed potential development along the Sheppard line and transit across the city, Shiner said.

“The takeaway from the meeting was very simple — all those present, and I believe it was close to unanimous … people there believe that below-grade transit is the way to go,” said Shiner.

The Willowdale rep says unlike light rail, subways are easier to maintain, are separated from traffic and do not disrupt communities. He called light rail a second-rate mode of transportation.

“You don’t want to build something that’s wrong for the future,” he said.

Homeowners in communities surrounding the subway have benefited with increased property values and development is continuing there, Shiner says.

However, critics are quick to point out the Sheppard line has yet to meet ridership goals from the time it opened in 2002.

But increased ridership comes with time, Shiner contends.

“Every subway that has been built in the city did not have the capacity to support it when it was first built,” he said. “Subways are built because you plan for now and for the future.”

At a recent town hall meeting in midtown on transit, TTC chair Karen Stintz said it’s unrealistic to expect a subway out to Scarborough.

“We can’t build a subway to Scarborough Town Centre for a billion dollars — it’s not going to happen,” she said. “The most we can do is extend the subway somewhat or we could actually build transit into Scarborough and that will be the choice council makes with the Scarborough councillors.”