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Mayor John Tory threatens to block subway extension unless province pays for relief line

Tory says he could move motion next week to halt planning on the Yonge subway extension, a project backed by the Wynne Liberals.

Stopping planning for the Yonge extension project is one of the few ways that Mayor John Tory can exert leverage in his ongoing dispute with the Ontario government.

Marcus Oleniuk/Toronto Star

Stopping planning for the Yonge extension project is one of the few ways that Mayor John Tory can exert leverage in his ongoing dispute with the Ontario government.

Mayor John Tory is threatening to stop city planning work on a transit project favoured by the provincial government unless Queen’s Park commits money to build the relief line subway.

Speaking at a press conference Tuesday morning in Riverdale, Tory said he was considering moving a motion at his executive committee next week to halt planning for the Yonge subway extension, which would extend the TTC’s Line 1 (Yonge-University-Spadina) subway into York Region. The project has the backing of local politicians north of Toronto, including influential Liberal MPPs in Premier Kathleen Wynne’s cabinet.

A city report released Tuesday recommended advancing planning and design work for both the Yonge extension and the relief line at the same time. But with the province so far failing to allocate any money to the relief line subway, which council has designated a top priority, the mayor said he “may have to reconsider” the report’s advice.

“We’ve got lots to do at the TTC. Heaven’s above, they have all kinds of projects to work on. And if we’re uncertain that the relief line will be funded or not by the province, then why would we be devoting our time working on the Yonge St. north extension?” he said.

The Yonge extension is estimated to cost $5.6 billion, and would extend Line 1 about 7.4 kilometres to Richmond Hill.

Because it would be an extension of the existing subway network, it would be operated and delivered by the TTC. Stopping planning for the project is one of the few ways that Tory can exert leverage in his ongoing dispute with the province, which erupted with Wynne’s decision to block council’s attempt.

The feud was exacerbated earlier this month when the Liberals rejected Tory’s calls to include billions in funding for Toronto transit projects and social housing repairs in their 2017 budget.

The TTC and city planners have long insisted the relief line, which would take pressure off of Line 1 by connecting the eastern portion of Line 2 (Bloor-Danforth) to downtown, must be built before the Yonge extension. That’s because the extension would add riders to Line 1, which is expected to be at capacity by 2031.

On Tuesday, the mayor said his job was to alleviate crowding on the transit system, “not to make it worse.”

“The Yonge St. North extension will only add more passengers to the Yonge St. subway, and without relief, I can’t allow that to happen,” he said.

The report, which will be debated at Tory’s executive committee before going to council later this month, seeks authorization to spend $90 million to advance planning for the Yonge extension, and about $100 million on relief line planning. It estimates that it will take until the end of 2019 to refine cost estimates and schedules for both projects to between 15 and 30 per cent design, although planning for the Yonge project is further advanced than that for the relief line.

The report also recommends that council approve an alignment of the relief line that would see the subway veer west just north of the GO corridor so that it would run beneath Carlaw Ave. instead of Pape Ave. It would then head west along Eastern Ave., before turning north to run beneath Queen St.

The first phase of the relief line is estimated to cost $6.8 billion. Capital work for the project remains unfunded by any level of government.

It was one of four projects council submitted to Ottawa to receive funding through a new federal infrastructure fund. The city expects to receive $4.5 billion to $5 billion through the federal fund over the next decade, but it’s not clear how much of that could go toward the relief line.

It’s estimated that construction of the 7.5-kilometre project would finish by 2031, assuming work began in 2021. The current plans call for eight stations including transfers at Osgoode, Queen, and Pape stations on the existing TTC network.

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