Transit City 2.0

[attach]5433[/attach]Mayor Rob Ford’s plan to build subways across Toronto hit a major snag today when council revived a dormant plan for surface rail on Finch and Eglinton.

At a special council meeting focused on transit, councillors voted in favour of a plan pitched by TTC Chair Karen Stintz to reaffirm support for at-grade light rail on Eglinton, Finch West and in Scarborough.

The vote essentially resurrects the Transit City project, pitched by then-mayor David Miller in 2007, and declared dead by Ford in 2010.

Stintz received raucous applause from several fellow colleagues and a packed public gallery in council chambers at the adjournment of the 10-hour meeting.

“I really think it was a common sense compromise and I’m really glad that council came together,” she told reporters after the vote passed with several amendments. “I believe it sends a strong message to the province about our commitment to building transit and getting shovels in the ground and getting people home sooner.”

The motion approval essentially provides direction for the province’s “5-in-10” transit priority plan to build five transit projects in 10 years.

It also directs staff to examine the feasibility of a westward subway link from Sheppard Station to Downsview, the construction of a downtown relief line, an extension of the Bloor-Danforth line to Scarborough, and another extension of the Sheppard LRT to end at the Toronto zoo.

TTC officials and Metrolinx have stated that putting the Eglinton LRT above-ground east of Laird Drive will cut the cost of the project substantially. That money, Stintz said, can be devoted to building light rail in other parts of the city, including Finch West from the Spadina subway to Humber College.

After council adjourned, Stintz said she was “not worried at all” about the province accepting council’s decision, noting the province turned to council for an final answer on how to spend $8.4 billion set aside for Toronto transit.

But Mayor Ford had a different take on the province’s plans. He quickly dismissed council’s decision at a press conference afterward.

“Technically speaking, that whole meeting was irrelevant because it’s a provincial project,” Ford said of the Eglinton Crosstown. “I’m quite confident that the premier is going to continue building subways.”

Ford also noted he would carry out his plan for subway on Sheppard, one of his top transit priorities. A report produced by Gordon Chong regarding funding options for a Sheppard subway extension into Scarborough is going before executive committee next week.

An ardent supporter of subways and subterranean transit, Ford declared the Transit City project dead right after his election to office. In March 2011, he signed a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding with the province to see that all $8.4 billion in earmarked funds be devoted to putting the Eglinton Crosstown line fully underground, from Jane Street to Kennedy Station.

In her motion, Stintz attempted to extend an olive branch to Ford by including in a request to establish an expert advisory panel that will determine how to get rapid transit on Sheppard Avenue.

Ford and his allies have consistently said subways, though more expensive, were a better option for a long-term vision of transit.

Councillors who voted in favour of Stintz’s motion said the vote puts a stalled Toronto transit plan on firm footing and that a decision could no longer be put off.

“Metrolinx wanted a clear answer, so we have to balance LRT with subways,” said James Pasternak, who has been vocal on his support for a Sheppard subway link between Sheppard and Downsview stations. “Sheppard is still in play, I believe we will get digging going, but we need a transit plan because we’ve fallen a generation behind.”

Check back with the Town Crier for local reaction to council’s transit vote.