As the province firms up construction timelines for its newest light rail projects, the TTC is being asked to take a step back and review its last large-scale rail endeavour: the dedicated right-of-way on St. Clair West.
St. Paul’s councillor Joe Mihevc has requested an independent study to put an end to a variety of misinformation and speculation he says has been floating about during the recent transit debate at city hall.
He wants an independent auditor to examine ridership, parking, rental rates in the area, traffic, time and accident counts along the route.
“They have the data,” he says. “It’s not hard to put it all together.”
Completed in 2010 after five prolonged years of construction, the St. Clair project became highly politicized during a contentious subway versus light rail debate at city hall. Mayor Rob Ford, who has been pushing to build subways over surface rail, frequently referred to the right-of-way as a disaster.
While a 2010 report called Getting It Right examined what went wrong in terms of the construction project, resulting delays and cost overruns, Mihevc says no one has done a comprehensive review of the route’s impact on the neighbourhood and transit system.
“We will be getting into light rail in a fairly big way in the suburbs, you want to have baseline data and a methodology to find out if it’s the right thing to do or not,” he said.
Mihevc, who championed the right-of-way, acknowledges a review may not put an end to speculation about the success or failure of St. Clair.
“There are some people who will be yelling about St. Clair until the cows come home,” he says. “But most people are reasonable, and they will follow where the evidence leads them.”
TTC commissioner Peter Milczyn said the request for a study is politically motivated and would end up being a waste of money.
A study would only serve as a snapshot of the conditions at the time of the study, he says.
“By the time the study is ready, things may have changed again … for any number of reasons other than transit.”
He disputed the notion that lessons learned from the St. Clair experience can be applied in a broader sense to Sheppard or Finch where light rail is planned.
“If you just look at the nature of Sheppard and Finch, very different streets, very different communities — it’s apples and oranges,” he says.
If the study gets the greenlight, Milczyn said it would be more sensible to conduct it when the route is operating new low-floor rail vehicles.
“That’ll be a huge difference in terms of the quality and consistency of service on the streetcar routes.”
In a letter to the commission, Davenport councillor Cesar Palacio derided the call for a review as politically motivated and said it will further stigmatize a community that is still in the midst of recovery.
Should a report be commissioned, he requested the scope of analysis include any economic losses, environmental impacts to local communities, future costs of widening the road and bridge between Old Weston Road and Keele Street, and contributions from local BIAs and Toronto Economic Development for street beautification projects.
TTC commissioners have asked staff to look into the terms of reference and projected costs of a review.
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