May 11, 2021, brought a shower of money, or at least promises of money, onto plans for rapid transit in Toronto. The federal government announced a total of $10.7 billion to fund a 40 per cent share in the Ontario, Scarborough, Yonge North and Eglinton West projects.
May 12 brought another, albeit smaller, promise of $180 million each from the federal and provincial governments to fund expansion of the streetcar fleet on which Toronto already planned to spend $208 million.
On May 13, a funding announcement for the Hamilton LRT line is expected. This is a project the province had tried to kill.
Combined with their recently announced national transit funding program, the federal Liberals are making a real splash in the transit pond, at least for big-ticket capital projects.
Before we all head out for a socially distanced beer or champagne celebration, there are important caveats.
Why 40 Per Cent Isn’t Necessarily 40 Per Cent
When the federal government agrees to fund a project, the dollar value is (or more accurately will be) “as spent” dollars without any provision for inflation. If Queen’s Park says that the Ontario Line is going to cost $10.9 billion, that’s what the 40 per cent is calculated on. Add-ons or inflation will be entirely on Ontario’s dime, unless a future federal government takes pity.
The last time a subway project ran out of money due to a hard cap on the “commitment” was with the Sheppard Subway’s terminus at Don Mills. Ironically, it was a conservative provincial Premier, Mike Harris, who capped spending on that project, and Toronto did not have enough money to continue east to Victoria Park, much less beyond to Scarborough Town Centre.
Cost overruns on the Vaughan subway extension were shared by Toronto and York Region.
The announced costs for the four Ontario key projects in Toronto are:
- Ontario Line: $10.9 billion
- Yonge North: $5.6 billion
- Scarborough: $5.5 billion
- Eglinton West: $4.7 billion
- Total: $26.8 billion
“The federal government is contributing 40% of each project, up to a total of $10.4 billion” according to Infrastructure Canada’s announcement. This could give leeway for allocations to move between projects, but sets a total on the group.
This puts all four projects in a box, and will make adding costs to them very difficult because there will be no matching federal dollars. The dubious nature of the spending, notably on the Eglinton West underground alignment, appears to be of little concern to the feds who do not want to be seen as interfering in local decisions.
That stance takes an odd turn when we see that there are conditions on this support, although I suspect that many are window dressing.
The federal government understands that every taxpayer dollar invested in public transit must have multiple benefits including creating good jobs, building more equitable and inclusive communities, and tackling climate change. That is why the federal government’s funding is dependent on satisfying conditions including demonstrating how the investments will drive down emissions and build resilience, substantive environmental reviews, ensuring affordable housing along the line, incorporating accessibility, mitigating local concerns, maximizing benefits for communities including through Community Benefit Agreements, and meeting employment thresholds for underrepresented communities including Black, Indigenous and people of colour, and women.
Just what is meant by “substantive environmental reviews” and “mitigating local concerns” is anyone’s guess especially in light of Canada’s rejection [22 MB PDF] of a requested environmental review of the Ontario Line. In brief, the feds hold that there are provincial and municipal processes in place to address concerns, and moreover that there are few areas of federal jurisdiction touched by the Ontario Line.
Metrolinx projects already provide accessibility and include Community Benefit Agreements. These “requirements” simply reinforce what they are already doing.
The Ontario Line is under fire in at least two locations, Riverside and Thorncliffe Park, because of intrusions on the community. In Riverside, the debate is over underground vs at grade construction, as well as the proposed alignment, and Metrolinx’ possible misrepresentation of the combined GO Transit and Ontario Line corridor from the Don River to Gerrard. In Thorncliffe Park, the proposed maintenance yard requires the expropriation of a group of offices and shops that form a community centre. A Mosque is also affected, although it plans to move to another building nearby.
Changing the design in either of these areas will almost certainly raise costs, and the project cap will be used to counter any such proposals. Oddly enough, this was not an issue on Eglinton West which is going undergound at a cost of nearly $2 billion so that the good people of Etobicoke do not have to see streetcars in their neighbourhood. That decision is now baked into the project cost, and Metrolinx is on the verge of awarding the tunneling contract.
The planned alignment of the Yonge North extension under the Royal Orchard neighbourhood is also under fire, although Metrolinx claims that the line will be so deep it will have no effect on the residential community above. That is an intriguing claim given that the tunnel portal is in the GO rail corridor and the trains will not leap instantly from deep underground to the surface.
The Scarborough decision has long been a fait accompli, but the current announcement commits the feds to a 40 per cent share of the expanded project.
More Streetcars for Toronto
In 2020, the TTC proposed that the streetcar fleet be expanded by 60 cars, and the City signed on to fund 13 of these. The remaining 47 are now funded by contributions from the other governments, a move that will keep Thunder Bay happy with a vehicle order to keep the now-Alstom (formerly Bombardier) plant going. Some work will also go to the Alstom plant in La Pocatière, Québec.
The subway extensions will also need new cars, but unlike the streetcar fleet, there is no open contract to simply be extended. It will be interesting to see how additional cars for Line 1 and a new fleet for Line 2 will be tendered, and what political machinations will bear on the vendor selection.
The expanded streetcar fleet will not all fit in existing facilities at Leslie, Russell and Roncesvalles. The TTC plans to renovate Harvey shops at Hillcrest as a small carhouse serving (at least) the 512 St. Clair route. The existing streetcar maintenance facilities at Hillcrest were designed in the 1920s for standard sized streetcars and could only host a few Flexitys at a time during the early testing and acceptance period.
Now that the full order for more cars has funding, the Hillcrest renovations can proceed.
Left at the Altar
Important projects which might benefit from federal funding are still sitting in limbo including:
- Eglinton East LRT to UTSC and Malvern
- Waterfront East LRT to Broadview
- Line 2 Bloor-Danforth Automatic Train Control and fleet renewal
- New Line 2 maintenance facility west of Kipling Station (Obico yard property)
There is a separate federal program to fund transit, but that is already partly earmarked for electrification of the bus fleet and garage upgrades. How much will be left for other projects remains to be seen.
With all of this new money for Toronto transit, the TTC needs to update its Capital Plan to reflect the current status of project funding and the remaining budget shortfall. We might have billions worth of promises, and even a few celebratory bottles to drink, but there is a long way to go thanks to decades of deferred investment.
I think you should also point out the controversy at the First Parliament site/Corktown Station on the OL Line. The OL also has expropriation issues north of Pape and O’Connor let alone the new bridge over the DVP!
Steve: I did say “under fire in at least two locations” as examples. The Corktown/First Parliament site is a mixture of issues including the City’s intended use and the alternative Metrolinx proposes, but it doesn’t have quite the immediacy of the other two. There is an expropriation issue at Minton Place, but my understanding of the situation is that the affected parties are more or less resigned to it. Also, this would likely have been the crossing for the Relief Line North, and so it’s not a case of Metrolinx creating a net new upheaval. Getting across the Don is not exactly impossible.
But yes if I were to catalog all of the neighbourhoods Metrolinx has pissed off on various projects, it would take a rather long article. They are utterly ham-fisted when it comes to this sort of thing in part because they spring things on people when it is too late for real “consultation”.
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This is surprisingly generous, regardless of the inflation aspect. Ontario municipalities are enjoying a sort of bidding war between the senior levels of government to pay for rapid rail transit construction. Well, except Ottawa.
The last 9 years have been a roller coaster.
In early 2012:
But later in 2012, the province got rolling for several years:
Enter Doug Ford in 2018/19:
And now in 2021:
The logic is hard to figure out. If you’re the Mayor of Ottawa right now, you must feel like you’re a sucker. Twice. The City of Ottawa is blowing its fiscal brains out on Phase II, and doesn’t have enough borrowing room to finish its BRT->LRT conversion.
Steve: There was a time when Ford was musing about a 40-40-20 formula with the City kicking in 20%. I suspect that his legacy is more important than whether he can shake down every government for contributions. The question will be what happens to it all assuming Ford is defeated in June 2022.
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I was not allowing myself to unduly celebrate when seeing that headline yesterday, as always, the devil is in the hellish details.
I’ve glossed through Steve’s excellent analysis, and shouldn’t comment until intently reading and digesting his points. But what I did note with delight when the announcement was made is how readily is cued the Cuckoos! Right on time, they popped out of the clockwork to chirp “What a good boy am I”….errr…sorry, got my rhymes in a knot…
But this ties back in with the gist of some of Steve’s points: The Cuckoos are now holding the eggs, for better or worse. Intended or not, the Feds made the Cuckoos declare their brood.
On a related point, CP24 hosted a panel to discuss this, and the only one who really had her feet on the ground was Shelagh Pizey-Allen.
She had two words, ones that Steve has enunciated time and again:
Please access the link, and see who the real star is.
I’m interested to see what other posters have to say on this issue. It’s an extremely important one, but not without unintended consequences…
Steve: I’m amused that Keesmaat now talks about all her work on the Scarborough Subway when she was responsible for that “deal with the devil” that claimed we could have both the subway and the Eglinton East LRT. She did make a good point about affordable housing, but I’m not sure how that will actually be achieved.
Some previous funding programs seemed to be “You can have the money if you dig a hole and get the tracks laid within 6 months” to solve unemployment problems. Does this program have a pumpkin hour in it? (I may have missed something in my quick read.)
Steve: Nothing specific is mentioned about deadlines for spending, and some of these projects stretch to 2030.
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How much of this funding (and Ontario’s funding) is coming from the Green Tax….as these contracts start to get signed and future funding is announced this seems like it becomes a tacit agreement from Ontario that the green tax is here to stay…or that cancelling it will basically require a huge amount of sunk costs due to insufficient cash flow to pay the bills…
Which “Green Tax” are you referring to? All the revenue from the Federal Carbon Tax is returned to Canadians through the rebate.
This funding presumably comes from general revenues.
Thanks Steve and commenters. I’m pretty disgusted with the federal level embracing ALL of Mr. Ford’s projects, though it’s good to have transit support, including streetcars. There are a few billions of real excess to Wa$te in these projects eg. Eglinton tunnelling and not re-using the SRT corridor vs. the tunnel extension, and where is the comparison to GO service upgrades for any Richmond Hill extension? And the Ontario Line needs to be done better; we likely need triage of something quickly done, and then another subway project akin to the 1957 plan, but going further east c. Queen axis and then N maybe Donlands or Coxwell.
So with the multi-billions in waste, (though we need to spend on transit, including in Scarborough so it’s more a question of re-allocating), it is now having national fall-out with the demise of ALL Greyhound bus services, though sure, it may not have been the best thing, but it seems a LOT more green than clunker transit with a strong whiff of vote-buying.
Also please note major hypocrisy in Ms McKenna taking a lofty ‘won’t interfere in lower level ‘decisions’ – even though Mr. Ford bullied and blasted his way through to alter priorities, tho with getting Relief up to Eglinton being good. But away from Toronto, in Hamilton, the deal and $$$ is only for an LRT, no busway option permitted, according to Mr. Spurr in a tweet.
Nice to know however, that Ottawa isn’t doing so well with large$$e: maybe they can press for better equity within Ontario. Thanks to Ross Trusler for a detailed account.
Listening to the interview clip on CP24, as referenced by Stephen, just reconfirmed to me how painful it is to listen to politicians talk about transit. Their self-congratulatory tone in funding a poorly-conceived rapid transit plan was almost too much for me. Keesmaat wasn’t much better, especially when you consider the mess she and her staff made of costing the one-stop Scarborough Subway and Eglinton East LRT plan. I commend Shelagh Pizey-Allen for the reminders about the immediate service and funding needs, but she didn’t tie that back to the capital funding decisions as explicitly as I would have liked.
Toronto thus continues its most recent history of funding very expensive vanity rapid transit projects that don’t carry their weight (Spadina Subway, Sheppard Subway, TYSSE) and take up more than their fair share of the system’s operating budget. That this requires either increased subsidies or restrictions on service elsewhere in the system on an ongoing basis seems to be something that most “subways, subways, subways” people either don’t understand or don’t care about (until it comes out of their own pockets of course, then it conveniently becomes the fault of those “over-paid” transit workers).
The current Ford/Metrolinx vanity transit plan, including the flawed Ontario Line, will suck up billions of transit capital and operating dollars for decades to come, providing a sub-par return on investment, while leaving many higher-return lines (Waterfront East LRT, Sheppard East LRT, Eglinton East LRT) unfunded. Until we can find a way to de-politicize the transit network decision-making, the primary objective is going to continue to be about getting the most votes, not building the best transit system. But, instead of simplifying, we’ve spent the last decade increasing the politicization by adding multiple new layers of governance to transit and entrenching the fragmentation of agendas and objectives. The solid foundation on which the TTC system was built continues to be eroded by these deeply flawed decisions made by people who have no transit expertise, and who put their personal legacy over the good of the transit system.
Equally important question is what happens to it all assuming Trudeau loses in 2021. Or if the federal Liberals win a razor thin minority and Trudeau is forced to resign as the Liberal leader and as Prime Minister. Interesting scenarios, only time will decide who will win and who will lose.
I struggle with the need to stretch north, vs. further enhancement within Scarborough.
On the subject of infrastructure (barely, sorry),
What is going on with the switches in the west end?
The intersection at Lansdowne/Dundas/College was recently rebuilt, yet 506 operators have to stop & [often] get out and throw the switch manually.
Same thing WB Dundas to WB Howard Park … and WB Howard Park to SB Roncesvalles. These were all recently rebuilt.
Steve: There is a generic problem whenever an intersection is rebuilt that the TTC doesn’t get around to re-electrifying the switches right away. This is further complicated because a Toronto Hydro hookup and inspection is involved, and they are not exactly fast off the mark on that work at the best of times. It’s one more example of how the streetcar system isn’t taken seriously by either the TTC or other agencies. Imagine subway repairs having these problems.
Steve, are you gonna talk about the court decision on the crosstown construction?
Steve: Stay tuned!
Just curious, in regards to the installation of point motors, why would Toronto Hydro be involved?
Steve: Because there is a hookup of the switch electronics box for standard power supply.
Under Kathleen Wynne, Ontario was paying 100% of the project costs. Under Premier Doug Ford, the federal government is contributing 40% to these multi-billion dollar transit projects. Sounds like Premier Ford is doing a good job advocating for Ontario and this is according to Steve who is no Ford fan. All I can say is thank you to Premier Ford for fighting for the people of Ontario.
Steve: You forget that in the bad old days, it was Stephen Harper in the PM’s office, and his government famously told Toronto to “fuck off” for cost sharing on new streetcars. Toronto carried the lion’s share of the cost on its own books.
The Feds have had money earmarked for the Scarborough Subway since before Ford took office, and they planned to support the Relief Line as it then was. They also contributed a bit under 25% to the cost of the Spadina Vaughan extension.
Now they want to get re-elected and have decided it’s time to spend on transit. I think that has more to do with their newfound generosity than Ford’s advocacy.