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Longer, quicker but costlier downtown relief line part of Ford's $28B transit plan

Last Updated Apr 10, 2019 at 5:32 pm EDT

Premier Doug Ford’s government unveiled a hefty investment in transit on Wednesday, committing $28.5-billion to expand Ontario’s transit network including $11.2-billion towards the creation of four GTA rapid transit projects.

Ford’s new transit plan includes a revamped Toronto downtown subway relief line – dubbed the Ontario Line – that will be twice as long as the one considered by the city, will be completed two years earlier but cost $3.7-billion more.

The line would run from Ontario Place to the Science Centre with six stops with the exact locations yet to be determined. Planners are predicting it will offer relief for the overcrowded Line 1 by diverting up to 9,000 people per peak hour, with an estimated 55,000 diverted per day.

Ford says the 15 kilometre Ontario Line will cost $10.9-billion and believes it can be completed in eight years. However, the Eglinton Crosstown is 19 kilometres long and taking 10 years to build.

The price tag for the Ontario Line is $4-billion more than the plan for the existing relief line. However, city officials have quietly said their price tag would actually be double that, therefore the Ontario plan is actually cheaper for more.

Ask Ontario Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek your questions about the provincial transit plan

The government says the Yonge North extension will cost $5.6-billion and be open soon after the Ontario Line while the Scarborough extension will cost $5.5-billion and be delivered before 2030. The Eglinton west Crosstown extension will cost $4.7-billion and be up and running before 2031.

Planners say the work can be completed faster because it won’t require tunneling under the Don River. In addition they also claim the Ontario Line will be “freestanding” which means it will not be interchangeable with the existing subway system. That means the line could use driverless cars, which are narrower, smaller, and lighter.

The government says the Ontario Line will help all transit riders, those currently on the overcrowded Line 1, people in Liberty Village, those by the airport and Scarborough. It could be a game changer for Ontario Place which has never had accessible transit, opening the door for future development.

Ford says the province has been in discussions with the federal government, City of Toronto and York Region about funding for the project, but says if need be, Ontario will shoulder the whole burden.

“For the first time ever the Ontario government is taking the lead in building new subways in this province, because the people of Ontario have waited long enough,” Ford said. “I talk to people every day and I know that you are tired of being stuck in traffic. That’s all I hear, ‘We’re stuck in traffic.’ You’re tired of being crammed into overcrowded subways. You are tired of waiting to get home to your families.”

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau would not commit to contributing to the Ford government’s transit plan, criticizing the province for dragging its feet when it comes to allocating federal infrastructure money.

“We have already put significant funding (in place) and we have found it difficult to actually get these projects going because the Ontario government is not at the table trying to get those projects happen,” he said in Ottawa. “And frankly, jobs are on the line.”

Adam Vaughan, a federal Liberal MP who represents a downtown Toronto riding and sparred with Ford during their days on Toronto city council, called the plan “bizarre.”

“Well, it’s really nice to see that he’s taking a crayon to the riding I represent and somehow feathered … a subway line through the densest, most complex part of the City of Toronto with absolutely no costing, no idea how it’s going to work,” he said.

Ford says it’s clear the city needs help building transit.

“I saw it in my time down at City Hall and its crystal clear to everyone who depends on TTC, for years Toronto city council hasn’t been able to move projects forward.”

Ford has promised to upload responsibility for Toronto’s subway system, including all future projects, to the province. The Toronto Transit Commission would retain control of the day-to-day operations of the subway, buses, and street cars, and the city would keep fare box revenue.

The premier has said the TTC has done well in operating the system but he believes the province can build subways more efficiently. The province could use its broader regional transit planning powers and fiscal flexibility to deliver the projects, he has said.

Mayor John Tory was not present at the announcement but said the city continues to be concerned that any changes in its transit planning could lead to delays.

“Our city staff have now just begun to study the proposals announced today and the impact on our transit plan,” Tory told reporters at City Hall. “Big questions to be pursued include the very important question of whether or not there will be delay to our progress on certain projects.”

Tory acknowledged that in some cases, such as the Ontario Line, the project may be able to get done faster while the Scarborough project may be further delayed.

“My job as mayor is to pursue transit progress and to do whatever I can to see us avoid delay.”

“At the end of the day, it is important to see the province of Ontario making a long-term, multi-billion investment in building transit in Toronto and in the GTA.”

Watch the full announcement below.

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Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report