East-end Toronto councillors worry new Ontario Relief Line will spell delays – Toronto.com

East-end Toronto councillors worry new Ontario Relief Line will spell delays - Toronto.com
Ontario unveils $28.5-billion transit plan, vows to double length of Torontos downtown relief line
Premier Doug Ford's government on Wednesday unveiled its nearly $30-billion Toronto-area transit expansion plan — including a new 15-kilometre "Ontario Line" stretching from Ontario Place to the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto.

Meant to replace the proposed downtown relief subway line to ease what Ford calls "dangerous congestion," the proposed, $11-billion "game changer" will be double the length of what the City of Toronto envisioned.

The proposed terminus for the relief line at Ontario Place is a new idea, though, and so is the technology being envisioned. The adapted relief line would be a lighter and smaller version of a traditional subway, similar to the Docklands Light Railway in London. It would be a stand-alone system that the province is projecting could carry 400,000 passengers a weekday.

"We are making the biggest and largest investment in new subways in Canadian history," Ford told reporters.

Ontario Place, a provincially owned and mostly defunct amusement park next to the citys Exhibition Place fairgrounds, had not been pegged as a subway stop on any previous city transit plan. Among those surprised at its inclusion on Mr. Fords map was Mayor John Tory, who found out only Wednesday morning that the subway would run there.

Ford and Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek made the announcement at GO Transit's Willowbrook maintenance facility in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke. No representatives from the city or federal governments were present at the news conference.

The province said the relief line would be done as early as 2027. The timeline is contingent on factors including the upload of transit to the province. The announcement comes amid talks between the province and city on the Ontario governments plan to take over ownership of Torontos subway network and control of expansion planning.

With the province changing course on several projects already underway, critics have raised concerns about potential cost overruns, construction delays and wasting some of the $224 million of public money already spent on the planning and design of transit infrastructure in Toronto. 

Many details are still to come, including how many stations there will be, and where. Also to be determined is how far west the line will go before dipping down to Ontario Place, and what effect this project will have on ridership at the urban GO stations the city is building under Mr. Torys SmartTrack plan.

"This isn't costing, this is a bunch of scribbles on a map," Liberal MP Adam Vaughan, who represents a downtown Toronto riding, told reporters on Parliament Hill.

Ontarios new licence plate slogan will be A Place To Grow

Meanwhile Toronto city Coun. Josh Matlow of Toronto-St. Paul's said the announcement amounted to "plans that don't make sense with money that doesn't exist yet."

Some details were unveiled Wednesday as part of a $28.5-billion transit plan for four projects, primarily in Toronto, but also extending outside the city. The province says it will be looking to other levels of government to contribute, but said it has earmarked the full amount in its capital plan.

The Ontario Line, provincial officials say, will be a "free-standing artery" independent of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC).

"The TTC are great operators. They're just not experts in building," Yurek said. "We can do things the city can't. We can prioritize, make decisions, and perhaps most importantly, finance these projects."

The proposed light rail line will run mostly underground with the potential for an elevated track along certain portions of the route, like crossing the Don River. The project is slated to be finished by 2029, or two years earlier, and will include the possibility of driverless trains.

Opposition politicians have slammed the upcoming design change as a waste of money and an attempt to force the governments partisan slogans onto the vehicles of Ontario drivers.

"It doesn't fully make sense to extend it down to Ontario Place, I don't know why he's doing that … Why spend the money there instead of maybe an LRT on the waterfront?"

And it's just one of the Ford government's four priority projects, along with extending the Yonge subway line north to Richmond Hill, expanding the Eglinton West LRT west, and building a three-stop Scarborough subway extension.

The province has committed to spending $11.2 billion — more than one-third of the total cost — on the projects.

Speaking to reporters from city hall, Toronto Mayor John Tory said he was pleased the province has chosen to fund four projects that have already been endorsed by his executive committee.

"This is a significant win for the city. [Ford] has accepted the fact that we have to work together," he said, adding that he considers today's announcement a series of proposals that can be further negotiated with the province. 

The slogan change is the latest move to be revealed ahead of its official announcement in Thursday's budget. CBC News has learned the government will announce a partial rebate of daycare costs. The government will also announce free dental care for low-income seniors, according to a report from the Canadian Press. 

"I did look at the map … it didn't even put stations on it," he said, adding that he assumed they were left off  "so that they could discuss those details with us."

"A Place To Grow" comes from the song A Place to Stand, which has been an unofficial anthem for Ontario since its use in a film that played at the province's pavilion at Expo 67. 

Tory also expressed concern that the province's proposals will further delay projects that have already been approved, like the Scarborough subway extension.

Torontonians are tired of politicians coming up with brand new transit plans after every election. The City of Toronto has spent years on an approved integrated transit network plan. Were ready to build now. Doug Fords shiny new transit map just set us back years.

CBC News asked Government Services Minister Bill Walker on Tuesday if "A Place To Grow" will be the slogan. He refused to confirm or deny.

Even with provincial funding, the federal government and the city will be expected to make up the remaining $17 billion for the projects.

In addition, the PCs have plans to eliminate 3,475 teaching positions, legalize tailgating parties and boost funding for autism therapy program. 

It's not clear how much Ottawa may be willing to commit or how Toronto will come up with its portion of the costs.

The federal Public Transit Infrastructure Fund is on track to spend about $2 billion on Toronto transit projects over the next decade. That money is distributed to municipalities based on ridership numbers.  

Ford did say, however, that his government has allocated future funding based on an assumption that Ottawa will cover up to 40 per cent of the costs of new builds. If they don't, Ford vowed his government would "backstop it ourselves." 

Following the announcement, federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau questioned why provincial officials were alone at the announcement.

"Our obvious question is why the Ontario government is out talking about investments in Toronto without the mayor of Toronto," he told reporters on Parliament Hill, adding that Ford's government hasn't been at the table with Ottawa. 

"All we know is that Doug Ford has unilaterally announced that he's relying on his partners, including the city of Toronto, to pay for his unilateral announcement. That doesn't make sense," he told CBC Toronto.

The Ford government wants to extend the Yonge subway line to Richmond Hill on an earlier timeframe than the city prefers; add two stops to the existing plans for the Scarborough subway; and bury the Eglinton West LRT extension through Etobicoke, a decision that would more than double the cost of that project.

Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency, has said it's paramount that the Downtown Relief Line open before the Yonge line is extended north into York Region.

The Yonge line operates at or above capacity every weekday, according to the TTC. Metrolinx has predicted ridership would exceed peak capacity of 28,000 people per hour by 2041.

The Scarborough subway extension is among the projects ready to enter the construction phase by the end of 2020, according to a report released last week.

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