Prime Minister Stephen Harper shook hands with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford on Sunday signifying the federal government’s support for the city’s Scarborough subway extension plan. No specific information was announced in regards to the federal government’s funding towards the project until Monday when federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty confirmed that $660 million was going to go towards the city’s new expansion plan. It was also announced that $330 million will be put aside for the Metrolinx Sheppard East project, bringing the government’s financial commitment to almost $1 billion.
Now that the federal government is backing Ford’s new subway plan, questions arise about what will happen next? How exactly will this project be funded, who is in charge of the decisions being made here?
Despite the federal government’s announcement, it would still only leave one funded subway plan for Scarborough.
Earlier this month, Glen Murray, the provincial Minister of Transportation, announced a $1.4 billion offer towards a shorter expansion plan along the Bloor-Danforth subway line involving two stops ending at the Scarborough Town Centre. Yet, Flaherty and Ford revealed on Monday that the federal government would not be supporting the same plan. Instead, federal funds will be going towards a longer subway expansion from Kennedy station to Sheppard Avenue.
So far the province has not joined the city’s approval for the longer expansion plan, however Murray did express his thoughts on the matter. “We welcome federal funding,” Murray says. “We’re really pleased to see the federal government commit to a Scarborough subway and we’re pleased that Ontario’s contribution of $1.4 billion is responsible for drawing this federal investment.”
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne shares Murray’s view that the federal government would not have come forward and shown their support for the City’s longer extension plan unless the provincial government did it first with their shorter subway plan. She also says that the federal government should provide up-to-date annual sums for the infrastructure spending rather than asking for financial aid whenever a project is issued, which is another view Murray and Wynne agree upon since the City is prepared to raise property taxes to help fund their expansion project.
Furthermore, Murray does not approve of the new subway plan. “The subway route proposed by the City is much more expensive and does not provide optimum service to Scarborough”, says Murray. “The $1.4 billion extension of the Bloor-Danforth out to the Scarborough City Centre is a technically feasible route. It will create jobs and most importantly, generate economic development.”
Although Murray calls his plan “feasible”, the Toronto Transit Commission does not fully agree with Murray. In fact, TTC says that even though the provincial plan seems technically feasible, there are still “many disadvantages.” For instance, if the provincial plan went through, development would start next year and go on until 2023, the existing SRT would have to shut down and people would have to take the buses during construction, causing a huge amount of incontinence for commuters traveling in the area. The construction would also create “an intrusive elevate structure” which would create curves on the expansion route ultimately slowing down the trains. Therefore, the TTC says that the shorter expansion plan would cost more than the provincial government is willing to offer.
According to Ted Glenn, political science professor and program coordinator at Humber College, there is still a formal process that needs to be sought through before the city can move forward towards their subway expansion plan. “The next technical step is that Toronto will have to get together a formal application for all the money and make the application to Infrastructure Canada,” Glenn says. “The federal government has basically said that they will put out an entry in our future budget that we can spend this money but you got to go through the formal process of applying.”
Since Murray is also the Minister of Infrastructure, applying may not be easier said than done for the federal government. As Murray said before, the City’s plan “is not fully funded.” Metrolinx and the Ministry of Transportation still need to weigh in with hard data and are currently doing diligence on both proposed subway routes,” Murray says. “While we are open for discussing other fully funded subway alignments, we don’t want to get into a more expensive subway plan we can’t afford. We don’t divert money from other projects for a different subway route.”
Even though it looks like the City is taking pleasure reassuring Ford’s wish and showing the people of Toronto that he can keep his promises in regards to a Scarborough subway, there is still a compromise that still needs to be settled under the surface before Ford’s wish can come true and be fully funded and it all comes down to the provincial government’s next move.
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