Toronto still more than $7 billion short for transit projects even after federal budget funding
The federal contribution is “most welcome,” said Mayor John Tory, but “now we have to move forward and see what the provincial budget does.”
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Toronto is still more than $7 billion short of what it requires to pay for urgently needed transit projects, despite an injection of funding from the 2017 federal budget.
Following the release of the Liberals’ spending plan Wednesday, Mayor John Tory’s office praised what it estimated would be a $5-billion investment for Toronto under the second phase of the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund. A statement from Tory said the money would provide “major benefits” for residents of the traffic-clogged city.
The federal government would not verify the mayor’s $5-billion estimate Thursday, but did confirm the funding would include $660 million that Ottawa had already pledged towards the one-stop Scarborough subway extension.
If the mayor’s math is right, that would leave the city with about $4.3 billion to spend on other priority projects that are partially or completely unfunded, including the relief line subway, the Eglinton East LRT, and Tory’s SmartTrack plan.
Speaking by phone from India, where he has been conducting a trade mission, Tory put the burden on the province, telling reporters it was time for Queen’s Park to “step in and do its part.”
The federal contribution is “most welcome,” he said, but “now we have to move forward and see what the provincial budget does.”
The provincial Liberals are set to table their own spending plan next month. A spokesperson for Finance Minister Charles Sousa would make no commitments about contributing more to Toronto’s transit projects.
“It’s important to remember that no provincial government in the history of Ontario has invested more in Toronto transit,” wrote Jessica Martin in an email, citing provincial spending on the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, the Spadina subway extension, the Union Pearson Express, GO Transit’s regional express rail program, and a sum previously committed for the Scarborough subway project.
Ottawa committed to funding a share of the Scarborough subway extension under the former Conservative government.
The project wasn’t on the list of priority projects that council voted in December to submit to the federal transit fund, and the subway also wasn’t mentioned in a press release the mayor’s office issued Wednesday trumpeting Ottawa’s $5-billion investment. This led to initial uncertainty about whether the subway money was included in that sum.
Both the federal government and the mayor’s office said that including money for the Scarborough extension in the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund didn’t dislodge money for the other Toronto projects.
“We added previously allocated money into the new larger transit fund. Because of that, the city’s Scarborough commitment does not displace any new funding,” said a spokesperson for the federal infrastructure minister in an email.
But the fact that other transit projects will have to split the infrastructure funding with the underground extension has critics renewing their calls for councillors to reject the Scarborough subway when it comes up for a vote at next week’s council meeting.
The estimated cost of the six-kilometre extension of Line 2 to Scarborough Town Centre has already ballooned from $2 billion to at least $3.4 billion, even as the number of stations has dwindled from three to one and estimates of the number of new riders the project would attract have been slashed.
Council has prioritized the politically charged project over other lines and it remains fully funded at the new, higher cost.
Councillor Josh Matlow said the city should abandon the extension and use the money to build a 24-stop network of LRT lines in Scarborough instead. It would include Eglinton East and the seven-stop route that council scrapped in 2013.
Matlow asserted that “we could serve so many more Scarborough residents, along with residents across Toronto, with the funds we currently have,” but the mayor and other supporters of the subway extension on council are “deciding to put politics before people.”
According to the budget released this week, over the next 11 years, Ottawa is planning to spent $20.1 billion on public transit across the country through the second phase of the transit infrastructure fund.
The projects the city submitted for funding were: SmartTrack, estimated at $3.7 billion; the relief subway line ($6.8 billion); Eglinton East LRT (about $1.6 billion); and Waterfront transit ($1.5 billion).
Together, the projects are estimated to cost at least $13.6 billion.
The city’s 2017 capital plan included close to $2 billion for SmartTrack, which, in addition to the federal funding announced Wednesday, would leave the remaining projects more than $7 billion short.
It’s not yet clear whether the city could decide to use the federal money to prioritize some projects over others, or whether the money would be spread across all of them equally.
Tory said Thursday that how the funding would be allocated was “one of those things that has not yet been sorted out.”