City council could finally and firmly commit this week to replacing the Scarborough RT with a $2.5 billion subway and a property tax hike to help pay for it.
Or it could doom itself to “irrelevancy” by returning to its original agreement to spend $1.48 billion in provincial funding on an LRT, says TTC chair Karen Stintz. That would send the message that council is turning its back on $660 million from Ottawa, money the city requested to fund the subway.
A city manager’s report asking councillors to reaffirm their choice of a subway or LRT “is misleading,” she said, because council approved a subway in July. The question before the October meeting of council that starts Tuesday, is which subway the city should build, said Stintz.
There’s only one answer, she said. Councillors must confirm the route they endorsed in July that would extend the Bloor-Danforth line to Sheppard Ave. East. to connect with the future Sheppard LRT.
Failure to do that will almost certainly see Queen’s Park proceed on a plan to build a shorter, above-ground subway proposed by Ontario Transportation Minister Glen Murray, warned Stintz.
“We will be the laughingstock of the nation if we turn our back on $660 million (from Ottawa) after we said we wanted it,” she said.
Stintz said she knows that some councillors, who endorsed the subway in July, won’t be willing to approve it again in part because the city has to find the balance of the funding from its own coffers.
“If you support the subway you support the funding,” she said. Stintz is, however, among those who anticipate a lively debate over the tax increase the city manager is recommending in his report.
In July, Toronto council approved a transit tax levy of 1.1 per cent to 2.4 per cent.
Joe Pennachetti is calling for a 1.6 per cent tax increase: .5 per cent in each of 2014 and 2015 and .6 per cent in 2016. For the average Toronto homeowner paying $2,532, that would translate to $12.66 and $12.72 in the first two years respectively, and $15.34 in the third year.
That tax would be in addition to the general property tax increase to pay for other city services. Ford has promised to keep that to 1.75 per cent next year.
Council also specified in July that the province must contribute $1.8 billion. That’s how much it originally promised for the LRT. But Murray said that some of that money had to be allocated to the Eglinton-Scarborough Crosstown LRT so the Scarborough line would only get $1.48 billion.
Councillor Paula Fletcher, who voted for the subway in July, said she can’t support it this time given that all of council’s conditions for approval have not been met and there are outstanding questions about potential cost overruns that the city would need to cover, penalties for cancelling the LRT and construction maintenance. Those are in addition to the $85 million Toronto would pay in sunk costs for the LRT.
She is also concerned that while the provincial $1.48 billion is in 2010 dollars, Ottawa’s $660 million has already been inflated to reflect the timelines for construction, which isn’t projected to start for about five years. That leaves a gap of about $300 million, she said.
“I’ve tried to be very fair and have a real broad look at everything. This report tells me it’s not reasonable,” she said.
“It seems very extravagant to put us in debt for 30 years,” said Fletcher.
Scarborough Councillor Gary Crawford he expects council will look at how financing the Scarborough subway commitment could affect other transit future transit projects.
“Part of the debate will come up around the priority of the downtown relief line, which is a valid concern . . . If a motion comes up about how we make the downtown relief line another priority and figure out that next, I’d be supportive of that,” said Crawford.
But, he added, that’s not a reason to act now with the Scarborough project.