A Few Delicate Questions About The Scarborough Subway (Updated)

Updated May 7, 2013 at 9:30 am:  The TTC has confirmed that the January 2013 cost estimate for the Scarborough LRT includes a $500m provision for a carhouse and yard.  As previously discussed in this article, the yard is not required for the LRT option because the Scarborough and Sheppard East lines will share space at Conlins Road Carhouse.

The City Manager’s Report on “Revenue Tools” to fund transit expansion may, or may not, find its way onto Toronto Council’s agenda on May 7/8 depending on the success of political manoeuvres to bring the item onto the agenda.  Executive Committee chose to defer the item to its May 28, 2013, meeting at which point the issue will be moot as Metrolinx will already have issued its recommendations to Queen’s Park.

In the run-up to a forced Council debate, it is not enough for some, including TTC Chair Karen Stintz, to simply appeal to a sense of democracy – six members of Executive should not be able to block debate by 45 members of Council on an important matter.  This became a chance to dust off the “One City” plan and pull together a Scarborough coalition by advancing the cause of a Scarborough Subway – an extension of the Danforth line east and north from Kennedy Station to Sheppard and McCowan.

No sooner was this scheme back on the table, but other would-be players began to mutter about their own pet projects.  That “extra half billion” the subway option in Scarborough may cost on paper could attract billions of add-ons, almost like the worst of pork-filled appropriations in the US Congress.  What might fall off of the table to pay for the Scarborough subway plus any other extras needed to bring reluctant Councillors onside is unknown.  Queen’s Park has been quite clear that there is no additional funding from that quarter, and so and extra must come from Toronto.

Queen’s Park can, of course, ignore whatever Council may try to add as conditions on approval of revenue tools, but if these undo the agreement to build LRT lines signed barely a year ago, this is no trivial discussion.  Regional planning will take a back seat to political aspirations just as it has for the past four decades, and momentum for actual construction rather than endless debate and delay will be lost.

The whole concept that the subway option is “affordable” turns on the premise that it is only slightly more expensive than the LRT, and brings benefits the LRT option cannot.  Some claims made for the subway option are, at best, misinformed, and at worst outright deceptions.  Unfortunately, the public agencies charged with providing accurate information are staying silent lest they be drawn into yet another political debate that could wreck professional careers.

Here are a few questions that should be asked and answered.

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