The TTC’s Capital Budget generates much debate over a few items, but there are many, many projects at the detailed level. Understanding those details puts the debate over transit spending, operations and expansion in a better context. This and following articles will look under the covers of the Capital Budget. I will start with the expansion projects because these have seen so much debate, but will turn to the more mundane parts of the budget that keep the wheels turning.
The projects discussed here include:
- The Toronto York Spadina Subway Extension (TYSSE) to Vaughan Metropolitan Centre
- The Scarborough Subway Extension (SSE)
- Various Waterfront proposals
Neither the Downtown Relief Line (DRL) nor the Yonge extension north to Richmond Hill is included because these are not yet official projects.
The Spadina Extension to Vaughan (TYSSE)
This extension has been under construction for several years, and was originally a hoped-for service to Pan Am Games events at York University in July 2015. That target was missed some time ago, and ongoing problems at various stations, notably York University, Pioneer Village (Steeles West), and Highway 407 could make even a late 2016 opening difficult.
The TTC commissioned external reviews of the project from APTA (the American Public Transit Association) and from Bechtel Ltd. CEO Andy Byford stated, during a recent press interview, that these reports would be on the March 2015 TTC agenda. Chair Josh Colle was more circumspect saying that the reports would be delivered to the TTC in March, but Colle was non-committal about when they would be made public.
It is unclear whether the project can be finished within its original $2.6-billion budget or if some parts of the project have been dropped, but will appear later as “enhancements”.
What has not received much public comment is the issue of future operating costs.
Operating costs of the entire subway extension to the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre are estimated to be $33.7 Million on an annual basis in current dollars (estimated net Operating cost of $14.2 Million). A Memorandum of Understanding has been approved by the Region of York and the City of Toronto regarding operating and maintenance cost responsibilities. [TTC Capital Budget Books, Page 1036]
The MOU mentioned above commits York only to the operating cost of some surface facilities such as park-and-ride, but leaves the lion’s share to Toronto. All of the fare revenue will flow to Toronto, although the estimated amount could be high because it assumes no YRT-VIVA-TTC integration for short cross-border trips such as those into York University from the 905.
Leaving aside the agreement, this is an example of how gaining new ridership can also push up subsidy requirements considerably. At 58% cost recovery, the extension falls below the overall system level of about 70%, but is still respectable. However, all those new subsidized TTC rides will push up the contribution needed from Toronto’s taxpayers, or will add to pressures for a fare increase when the line opens.
The Scarborough Subway Extension (SSE)
The Scarborough Subway is the subject of great debate for its technology, alignment and relationship to other rapid transit projects such as SmartTrack. Those issues are beyond the Capital Budget itself which only reflects the current estimates for various portions of the SSE and related works.
The subway extension has an estimated cost of $3.306-billion including inflation. This amount includes provision for 7 new trains (6 for service plus 1 spare, $125m) as well as storage ($262m), with costs stated in 2010$.
SSE_Appendix_3 [High level estimate of Scarborough Subway costs, Attachment 3 to the Council materials in July 2013.]
However, the fleet that will operate the SSE will actually come from existing spares in the pool of T1 trains as shown in the Fleet Plan. This means that the cost estimate for the SSE includes $397m (considerably more with inflation to the likely date of purchase/construction) that is not actually required for this project. I am sure that it will be tempting to shift these funds to options such as additional stations or a longer alignment, rather than simply decreasing the cost of the project and releasing the capital to other deserving parts of the TTC’s portfolio.
There is no estimate yet for the Operating Budget effect of the extension in costs and savings relative to the current network, and in net new fare revenue. Until there is a firm choice of alignment and an updated assessment of ridership with competing nearby services in the GO corridor, this calculation is impossible.
The SSE will not open until 2023, and for coming years, the TTC will have to breath life into the existing Scarborough RT at a total cost, including inflation, of $132m.
Additional funds ($123m) will be required to demolish the existing SRT structure. There has been a proposal to turn this into an elevated linear park (a Scarborough version of New York’s High Line), but the scope and cost of doing this as an alternative are not yet known.
The Toronto Star recently published an article about the SRT overhaul including a design for a new vehicle colour scheme taken from the route’s colour on TTC maps.
Waterfront Toronto Projects
The Capital Budget makes odd reading on this subject because it includes components of some proposed routes such as additional vehicles, but does not include actual construction spending. Acquisition of more streetcars by the TTC is an open question as the city works through its 2015 budget because of delays in the initial Bombardier Flexity order of 204 cars. An add-on of 60 has been proposed, but this is for growth on the existing network. Cars for the waterfront would be additional to that base.
The reconstruction of Union subway station is expected to complete in late spring 2015 providing added platform capacity at this crowded location. Sadly, what is missing from the project is more capacity for the streetcar loop whose access is now actually smaller than before because the northbound-to-Yonge subway platform encroaches into what was formerly queuing space for passengers. Plans to expand the streetcar loop with new platforms and tracks have been around for years, but the project does not have the political appeal of a new subway line.
Although it was closed for over two years during the Queens Quay project, nothing happened to the loop and it will be an even greater bottleneck in the future than it was in 2012 before construction began.
West Don Lands
A spur from King Street has been built south via Cherry Street to just north of the rail corridor. This will not actually enter service until, tentatively, spring 2016 because the area it serves will be the Pan Am Games Athletes’ Village. Following the games, the new condos will be fitted out as homes rather than as temporary quarters, and the new residents will arrive in 2016.
The project cost for the Cherry Street line was $5.7m. A further $30m is included in the budget for 5 additional streetcars.
Plans for the area south of the rail corridor, aka the “Keating Precinct”, include a track connection through to Queens Quay from Cherry, but this requires expansion of the underpass at the corridor to make room for streetcar and cycling lanes. That part of the plan is one of those “nice to haves” that never quite makes it onto a preferred funding list.
A proposed spur would run east from Queens Quay and Bay to a temporary loop at Small Street, just west of Parliament. This will require a tunnel from the existing structure at Queens Quay Station east to a point beyond Yonge Street, a difficult project because of utility conflicts and the nearby Lake Ontario.
Development is well underway of new buildings in this area.
The current budget estimate for the East Bayfront line including modifications to Union Station is $425m plus inflation. There is a separate $36m budget line for 6 additional streetcars.
The lands south of the Keating Channel (Cherry south of Lake Shore) are the location of a large proposed community that would be built around a “new Cherry Street” closer to the water’s edge than the existing street. This would shift New Cherry to be roughly in line with the existing street north of Lake Shore. Streetcars would cross the Keating Channel on a new bridge and run south via New Cherry to the Ship Channel.
There is a budget line of $194m for this expansion.
The Lever / Great Gulf Site
A large block of land lies east of the Don River between Lake Shore and Eastern Avenue. One proposal for the site includes extension of Broadview Avenue south to Lake Shore and a streetcar connection west to the Queens Quay line. This is in the very early stages of planning, and various alternatives to serve the area including both SmartTrack and GO/RER (not to mention a possible DRL) are under study.
The Bremner Streetcar (aka Waterfront West)
Although the Waterfront West LRT (WWLRT) has been on the books for over two decades, it has not been seriously pursued recently. This is due, in part, to confusion about just what the line might accomplish — is the intention to bring people in from southern Etobicoke, or Parkdale, or Liberty Village, or from the condos around Skydome? What role might it have to serve events at Exhibition Place? This mixture of goals with no clear advocacy leaves the whole project in limbo.
Meanwhile, there is a budget line of $24m for 4 new streetcars for the “Bremner” line to serve the area between Union Station and Bathurst Street. However, there is no budget to actually build such a line, much less any agreement about how it would actually be fitted into the streetspace and activity level of Bremner and Fort York Boulevards.
None of the waterfront projects, other than the almost complete Union Station rebuild, is funded and this is all “below the line” stuff. However, the TTC and City really do need to figure out the priority and potential timing for these, not to mention a consolidated budget.