The battle was on for the future of Toronto transit before Monday’s council meeting even started.
As councillors filtered in to begin their regular monthly meeting, TTC chair Karen Stintz, armed with a petition signed by 24 councillors, approached the city clerk and requested a special council meeting on transit to be held Wednesday.
The city clerk announced the meeting a few hours later.
The special meeting lets Stintz recommend a plan that harkens back to the Transit City light rail project, announced by then mayor David Miller in 2007 and declared dead by current mayor Rob Ford when he took office in 2010.
That plan called for an Eglinton Crosstown light rail — already under construction — to travel underground in midtown and then on the surface east of Laird Drive. The plan also called for surface light rail on Finch Avenue west of Dufferin Avenue and on Sheppard Avenue E.
The move puts Stintz, who represents Eglinton-Lawrence, in direct conflict with subterranean-transit advocate Ford.
Flanked by councillors Josh Matlow, Maria Augimeri and Glenn de Baeremaeker, Stintz told reporters she called the meeting in response to a letter from Metrolinx chair Rob Prichard requesting council confirm its position on the transit file, including how to spend $8.4 billion earmarked by Metrolinx for Toronto transit projects.
“I will ask my colleagues to confirm those light rail projects that are on the book and fully funded,” Stintz told reporters.
Stintz recently said it would be cheaper to build the light rail at-grade on the less congested eastern portion of the Eglinton Crosstown line, and then take savings from that project and pour it into other capital transit projects.
Ford is adamant the $8.4 billion be used to bury the Eglinton light rail line completely, with any leftover funds devoted to building an extension for the Sheppard subway.
Though the mayor did not take any questions regarding transit at his Monday morning weigh-in as part of his weight loss challenge, he has made it clear he will not support anything other than a below-surface transit plan.
Councillor Doug Holyday told reporters there are merits to both plans, but indicated he too is in favour of subterranean transit.
“From the advice I’ve been given over a period of time, in the long, long run, subways are your best bet because they’re underground and they’re easier to maintain and they last longer,” he said.
Holyday said he was concerned councillors in support of Stintz’s plan are being too rash.
“Council may act in haste without all the information before them,” he said.
If council votes to return to a Transit City-like plan, it would put the mayor’s vision of subway along Sheppard from Downsview station to Scarborough Town Centre in jeopardy.
Released last week, a Ford-commissioned report on funding options for a Sheppard subway extension, a major tenet of his mayoral campaign, indicated that the plan for more subway along Sheppard was approved by council long before Transit City came to light, and is more sustainable than light rail.
The report indicated the subway could be funded through the private sector, parking fees and road tolls.
Former councillor Gordon Chong, who was handpicked by the mayor to write the Sheppard subway report, also suggested Monday that councillors in favour of the special council meeting were being hasty.
“Let it go through another month or two, because it’s been simmering for 30 years, a couple of months is not going to matter,” Chong told reporters before council convened.
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