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Approved joint transit plan includes downsized SmartTrack

As many were glued to Tuesday night’s U.S. presidential election, there was another big vote taking place in Toronto.

The $7-billion joint transit plan between the city and the province received overwhelming support at city council with a vote of 32-9. The decision sets the wheels in motion for a scaled down, reworked version of Mayor John Tory’s Smart vision.

The plan will include six new stations in Toronto and see 11 GO stations updated so they too could become part of a collective transit network. The funding agreement also includes the Eglinton West LRT, the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, as well as the Finch and Sheppard LRTs.

Despite the vote passing, some councillors say there is still a lot of work to be done and many decisions are pending.

Coun. Michael Layton says the proposed SmartTrack station in Liberty Village is “all wrong.” The current proposal is to build the station north of King Street West – outside of the Liberty Village neighbourhood.

“When the station moves north of King you’re likely to lose a lot of the ridership,” Layton explained. “Getting people to walk west to get east is likely not going to happen unless there’s a strong pedestrian connection.”

Coun. Stephen Holyday, who represents Ward 3 Etobicoke Centre, says there are worries over construction delays which could go on for years.

“There’s a tremendous concern in the neighbourhood about what an LRT along that Eglinton right of way on the surface would do to their daily commute,” Holyday said.

And then there’s the proposed East Harbour Unilever station – where there’s currently no one living.

Associate Professor of Planning at U of T, Matti Siemyhaticki, says the city is “banking on a really dense neighbourhood on that plot of land.”

Tuesday’s vote means the city is automatically committed to spend $250-million to pay off an old debt with Go Transit and to foot the bill for feasibility studies.

In December, council will look at possible revenue tools to pay for their share of the deal which is over $2-billion. There has been no word on where city council will find the money.

Other unknowns also include the costs for operating and maintenance of these new lines – which would be the city’s responsibility.

Siemyhaticki said those costs could skyrocket down the road.

“These are 10’s of millions of dollars in new financial obligations that the city is going to take on in order to operate and maintain these lines,” he said.

A staff report on the proposed stations, as well as an environmental project report, won’t be going before council until the fall of 2017.