More Projects for the GTTA, If Only Someone Will Pay

The November meeting of the GTTA board brought a second round of “quick win” projects. That title is getting stretched, along with the definition of “regional” transit, to fit what is actually happening, particularly in Toronto.

There are two sections in this round, one mainly for projects by local operators, and one for GO Transit.

“Local” projects:

Hamilton:

A-Line, James-Upper James corridor and Airport connector – $6.9 million
B-Line, King-Main corridor – $17.4 million
James Street North GO/VIA Station – Gateway to Niagara – $3.0 million

Halton Region Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) – $57.6 million
Bolton GO Transit service improvements – $600,000
Dundas and Hurontario higher-order transit corridor development – $26.5 million
Mississauga Transitway Hub: Airport-Renforth Gateway – $39.0 million

York-VIVA:

Highway 7, Pine Valley Drive to Kennedy Road – $62.0 million
Yonge Street, Richmond Hill Centre to 19th Avenue – $19.0 million
Yonge Street, 19th Avenue to Newmarket – $29.0 million

Toronto:

Yonge subway extension to Richmond Hill (Phase 1) – $423.7 million

Transit City Light Rail Transit (LRT) head start – $7.1 million [funding for preliminary design of Eglinton, Finch West and Sheppard East lines]

Yonge Finch-Steeles BRT – $17.3 million

Durham-Highway 2 BRT Spine – $82.3 million

Although the GTTA goes to great effort to talk about its regional mandate, I believe it is clear that they are also recognizing that there is really little distinction between “regional” and “local” projects. Even if a project is entirely contained within one municipality, it can have a regional impact. Nowhere is this more evident than in “Phase 1” of the Richmond Hill Subway extension.

Before more riding can be added to the existing Yonge line, both from the extension itself and from proposed Transit City routes, the subway needs greater capacity. That, in turn, requires the ability to run more trains per hour and a major upgrade of the signal system. The original 1950s era system needs replacement simply because it is worn out, but also to enable closer train spacing. The conversion of the entire YUS line to automatic train control won’t be completed for eight years or so, and can hardly be called a “quick win”, but if we don’t start on this project today, everything just gets pushed back.

A side effect of including “local” projects in the GTTA budget is that this offloads costs from the municipal capital plans. We are not yet at the point where the GTTA has a standing allocation from Queen’s Park (or anywhere else) with which to make long-range capital plans. However, each project that moves to the GTTA from, for example, the TTC reduces the capital funding crunch I have described in other posts.

GO Projects:

Park and ride expansion, including new structured parking, at 19 GO train station locations on all seven corridors in Durham, Halton, Peel and York regions (resulting in 9,850 to 12,250 new parking spaces by 2012-13).

Two BRT park-and-ride expansion projects in Halton Region.

New train stations to support corridor extensions at Oshawa East and Richmond Hill North.

In the medium to long term, the GTTA sees the GO and GTTA capital planning processes merging together.

At this time, the GTTA is quite specific about what it is not funding:

Projects which are not “foundations” of MoveOntario2020. This means that any project that had not made it onto the table when MoveOntario was announced, or which someone cannot reasonably argue as being relevant to those projects, goes on the back burner. In Toronto, we are very lucky that Transit City was conceived and announced because, without it, Toronto would have a much smaller presence in MoveOntario.

Road corridor widenings. If additional space is to be provided in road corridors, it is to be for exclusive rights-of-way for BRT and future LRT projects. This is an important criterion because, without it, transit funding will quickly be diverted to highway space on which, now and then, transit vehicles are allowed to operate. It would be particularly harmful to LRT proposals if “BRT” space were shared with other road traffic that would be difficult, if not impossible, to remove for a future rail conversion.

Land acquisition. Any land acquisition will be deferred pending finalization of regional rapid transit plans.

Design and engineering costs beyond those required for initial feasibility studies. Full development funding awaits decisions on the way that new projects will be financed and developed (public sector, private sector, or some combination).

Operating costs.

The GTTA has asked Queen’s Park to fund this second-round bundle of projects. At this point, it is unclear whether this will be 100% Ontario money, or whether we will fall into a deadlock with Ottawa awaiting their mythical 1/3 contribution. The idea of “quick wins” will be quickly compromised if Ontario takes this approach.

Between now and the spring, when Ontario’s 2008/9 budget will be released, we must await Queen’s Park’s largesse. During that period, the GTTA will be working on various Green Papers leading up to the Regional Transit Plan.

I have written before about my concerns that the GTTA seemed to be rudderless, that its chair, Rob MacIsaac, seemed to do little more than give the same speech over and over. Now, there seems to be momentum and the desire to launch work on many fronts simultaneously. This will likely continue as long as funding is available and the GTTA Board can talk about real progress and results, rather than feuding over each region’s pet projects.

6 thoughts on “More Projects for the GTTA, If Only Someone Will Pay

  1. I see that the SRT is listed with the light rail projects as a conversion, could we be seeing a change in plan for Scarborough (although they do have a picture of an ICTS vehicle on the same page)?

    Steve: The “conversion” is from Mark I to Mark II vehicles. This requires major changes at Kennedy Station because the Mark II’s won’t go around the tight corners designed originally for CLRVs.

    Like

  2. It would seem obvious to me that relieving the Yonge line should be of a higher priority. Why aren’t we giving priority to Don Mills or Jane LRT , given the strain we expect on Yonge’s subway.

    Yes, capacity can be increased, but we still seem to be putting all our eggs in one basket. A single accident on YUS can destroy the entire populace’s longitudinal travels.

    Like

  3. Hi Steve,

    How come WWLRT did not make it into the list of quick win projects? Phase I of it looks fairly easy to implement, as only a section of new rail (Roncesvalles to Exhibition loop) has to be built.

    Is that because the newer LRT proposals (Eglinton, Sheppard E, Finch W) are considered more valuable, or due to some logistic hurdles for the new waterfront rail section?

    Steve: There are two points here. First, the WWLRT is really not a “regional project” and cannot be converted to one by any stretch of the imagination. Second, the real waterfront issue is in the East Bayfront, Don Lands and Port Lands. Over the next decade or so, these areas will see a huge growth in population, while that to the west will be comparatively modest. The lines planned for these areas will be, at least in part, funded by Waterfront Toronto, and therefore they are not in the GTTA shopping list.

    Like

  4. The WWLRT could be turned into a “regional” project by extending it a few stops west into Mississauga 🙂

    Steve: One fundamental difference, looking at this seriously, is that there really isn’t any major destination between Mississauga and downtown, and that origin-destination pair is already served, much better, by GO. The main market for the WWLRT is in southern Etobicoke as an alternative to going north and across the BD subway.

    Like

  5. Dear Steve,
    Why will it take eight years for the new signal system? Is this for technical reasons or political/financial reasons?

    My concern is that eight years puts us well past peak oil so we are going to desperately need the capacity before then. Is it possible to compress that schedule if it becomes a “crash” project?

    Steve: Part of this is staging the cost out over a longer period, but the main issue is that until the second batch of Toronto Rockets gets here, the TTC won’t have a fully ATC-capable fleet for the YUS line. Of course, originally they were going to convert some of the T1 cars, but the TTC claims that buying more TR’s is cost effective to replace the H6 cars earlier than planned. A lot of this is based on the allegedly better maintenance characteristics of the TR’s. We shall see.

    Like

  6. As for as the Eglinton LRT is concerned, I wonder how much more it would cost to make the tunnel portion a full subway since tunnelling is an expensive proposition anyway. I’m no fan at all of forced transfers a la the Sheppard proposal but with what it’s going to cost to put a tunnel in the powers that be might as well at the absolute least include as much provision for eventual upgrading to a full subway as possible.

    Two examples of streetcar tunnels upgraded to full subway service are what is now the Blue Line in Boston and the Brussels subway system. What is now the Green Line in Boston has a station designed with the idea of a conversion to full subway service. The tracks were built on stilts which, if ever removed, would leave a perfect alignment for high platform trains.

    Steve: The projected demand on Eglinton is nowhere near subway level, but it is likely that the structure will be built so that, if ever needed, it could be converted. The Blue line in Boston was converted from streetcar to subway a very long time ago. The Green line is another matter. The oldest part dates to 1892 and with its various branches, conversion to subway doesn’t make sense.

    The main issue on Eglinton is that we only need to tunnel for the central section and can run at grade east of Leaside and west of York.

    Like

Comments are closed.