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Tuesday, July 29, 2014
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Eglinton envy

Rob Ford's plan for an underground LRT across the city may draw ire of those living outside of midtown
Get ready, midtown, to face the envy and scorn of the rest of Toronto.

A new, underground version for a 25 km Eglinton LRT is moving ahead, thanks to a joint announcement by the province and the city.

Good news, right? Yes, except that the previous plan included $8 billion for surface LRT routes along Finch, Sheppard and Eglinton, and converting the Scarborough RT into light rail transit lines. Then-incoming mayor Rob Ford pronounced that plan dead on Dec. 1.

Mayor Ford wanted the Eglinton line fully buried, so that it won’t interfere with traffic. That’ll be achieved except for a small elevated portion as it approaches Kennedy subway station. Burying the entire rapid streetcar line will increase the cost of the Eglinton project by at least $2 billion.

The result is the $8.4 billion the province had set aside for four will now be entirely eaten up by two: Eglinton and Scarborough. As a result, the new plan cancels LRTs on Sheppard and Finch.

But here’s the kicker: The city will be on the hook to pay back $49 million in costs already incurred for the Sheppard and Finch routes to provincial agency Metrolinx. That is a lot of money down the drain for a decision by a mayor who claims to value respect for taxpayers.

Metrolinx spokesperson Vanessa Thomas says the estimate of $49 million in sunk costs is mostly for work on the environmental assessments, designs or engineering and project management for Finch LRT and Sheppard LRT.

“The next step is to negotiate the terms of how those costs will be paid back,” Thomas says.

The mayor signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the province and Metrolinx, promising that the city will pay back any costs already incurred for the original projects.

But back to the good news for midtown, which is the 25 km Eglinton route moving forward. Midtowners already saw tunnels for an Eglinton subway buried by former premier Mike Harris in the 1990s. Residents and businesses along this vital east-west corridor have waited a generation for a route on Eglinton that’s faster than the current buses that struggle in congested traffic.

Mayor Ford promised commuters a shorter trip on Eglinton.

A trip from Kennedy to Laird Avenue takes about 28 minutes by bus, he said, and a surface train down the middle of Eglinton would be only eight minutes faster.

“Our new plan will cut that travel time in half,” he told the media.

Mayor Ford promised Finch won’t be left in the cold, as the city will run enhanced bus service from a Humber College station to a new Finch West station, to be built as part of a separate subway extension.

And he announced, perhaps for the first time, subway service on Finch within a decade.

But Ford’s big push is to leverage $4.2 billion from the private sector to build a new Sheppard subway line, from Downsview to Don Mills station and then east to a new terminus at Scarborough City Centre.

He promises to report back with a financial plan on how to achieve this goal.

As midtown councillor Joe Mihevc told reporters at the March 31 transit announcement, the city will have to pay back the private sector if they do invest billions in a Sheppard subway. And in his view there’s no guarantee it’ll even happen.

Said Mihevc: “The suburbs get screwed. Transit riders get screwed. The people along Finch get screwed and the Sheppard subway, if it ever gets built, will in-debt the city to such an extent that not only will my children, but my children’s children will be responsible for paying for it.”

In the meantime, get ready for rapid transit on Eglinton. Midtowners aren’t the only ones who want this to happen. But don’t be surprised if you get some disgruntled looks from people in the suburbs as they tell tales of their daily commute on crowded buses.

They still dream of one day getting rapid transit of their own.

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