Tran­sit rail plan gets green light

Coun­cil en­dorsed agree­ment with prov­ince to ad­vance deal

Toronto Star - - GTA - BEN SPURR STAFF RE­PORTER

Mayor John Tory’s sig­na­ture rail plan cleared a ma­jor hur­dle on Tues­day, as coun­cil re­jected an at­tempt to de­lay its ap­proval and en­dorsed a con­tro­ver­sial agree­ment with the prov­ince to ad­vance its com­ple­tion.

The terms of the agree­ment, which passed with the sup­port of three quar­ters of coun­cil, set out cost­shar­ing ar­range­ments be­tween the city and the On­tario govern­ment for more than $11 bil­lion worth of tran­sit pro­jects, in­clud­ing planned LRT lines and a scaled-down ver­sion of the SmartTrack pro­posal Tory promised dur­ing the cam­paign.

The mayor framed the agree­ment as coun­cil tak­ing de­ci­sive ac­tion on build­ing tran­sit.

“I think it’s a great deal. It’s go­ing to pro­duce tran­sit for peo­ple sooner than any­thing else, it’s go­ing to make the big­gest dif­fer­ence the soon­est of any­thing else we can do,” he told coun­cil.

The de­ci­sion means the city will be re­spon­si­ble for the cap­i­tal costs of build­ing SmartTrack, es­ti­mated at $3.7 bil­lion, and comes just three weeks be­fore a Nov. 30 dead­line set by the prov­ince.

SmartTrack is de­pen­dent on the prov­ince’s GO Tran­sit re­gional ex­press rail (RER) ini­tia­tive, and Metrolinx, the pro­vin­cial tran­sit agency, said it needed coun­cil’s com­mit­ment to pay­ing SmartTrack costs by the end of the month so it could move ahead with the pro­cure­ment process for RER.

But dur­ing a de­bate that stretched over nine hours, some coun­cil­lors said they didn’t have enough in­for­ma­tion to ap­prove the pro­posed agree­ment. Details of the terms were only re­leased last week and the deal po­ten­tially puts the city on the hook for bil­lions of dol­lars in fu­ture tran­sit costs with no clear fund­ing source.

Coun­cil­lor Janet Davis (Ward 31, Beaches — East York), moved a mo­tion to de­fer ap­proval of the agree­ment un­til coun­cil’s Fe­bru­ary meet­ing, when coun­cil­lors will fi­nal­ize the city’s 2017 bud­get. She ar­gued that would al­low coun­cil to weigh in on city re­ports, an­tic­i­pated in the com­ing weeks, that will out­line new rev­enue tools and po­ten­tial as­set sales that could raise fund­ing for tran­sit.

Davis said that if the prov­ince wouldn’t al­low a de­lay “then there’s some­thing re­ally wrong with this part­ner­ship.”

“What this says is hold on, we have time­lines and pro­cesses here too, we are a level of govern­ment and we need to con­sider this in the con­text of our bud­get,” she said.

Davis and oth­ers raised con­cerns about whether tax-in­cre­ment fi­nanc­ing, an untested method of tap­ping an­tic­i­pated taxes from fu­ture devel­op­ment to pay for in­fra­struc­ture pro­jects, could be used to cover a large por­tion of the SmartTrack costs, as the ap­proved plan rec­om­mends.

They also cited un­cer­tainty around the fare prices and rid­er­ship pro­jec­tions for SmartTrack.

Nei­ther has been fi­nal­ized but both are cru­cial to the pro­ject pro­vid­ing the ben­e­fits to the city’s tran­sit net­work that Tory has claimed.

But other coun­cil mem­bers warned that de­lay­ing the vote to next year would cause the prov­ince to cancel the deal and it was bet­ter to push ahead.

“Re­mem­ber this — we are not a level of govern­ment. The prov­ince con­trols this level, they tell us what the deal is,” said Coun­cil­lor Frank Di Gior­gio (Ward 12, York South-We­ston). “They put dead­lines on us . . . They con­trol the na­ture of the deal we will ul­ti­mately get.” Davis’s mo­tion failed 32 to 11. The $3.7 bil­lion in es­ti­mated SmartTrack cap­i­tal costs in­cludes $1.3 bil­lion for six sta­tions branded as SmartTrack stops on the Stouf­fville/ Lakeshore East and Kitch­ener GO cor­ri­dors, down from the 13 new sta­tions Tory promised dur­ing his cam­paign. It also in­cludes $2.5 bil­lion for the Eglin­ton West LRT, which would run be­tween Mount Den­nis sta­tion on the Eglin­ton Crosstown and Pear­son Air­port.

The city is hop­ing to se­cure fund­ing from the fed­eral govern­ment and other ju­ris­dic­tions to lower its SmartTrack costs to $2 bil­lion. The prov­ince is spend­ing $3.7 bil­lion on the GO net­work within Toronto to sup­port RER.

Amidst a flurry of mo­tions at the end of the de­bate, coun­cil re­jected an at­tempt by Coun­cil­lor John Camp­bell to de­lay ap­proval of the Eglin­ton West LRT. Camp­bell, who rep­re­sents the Etobicoke Cen­tre ward that would be served by the pro­ject, noted that the ex­ten­sion wasn’t high on the list of tran­sit pri­or­i­ties com­piled by the city’s plan­ning depart­ment, and ar­gued the money would be bet­ter spent on build­ing water­front tran­sit. His mo­tion lost 32 to10.

In ad­di­tion to tak­ing on the costs as­so­ci­ated with build­ing SmartTrack, the deal ap­proved by coun­cil also com­mit­ted the city to pay­ing $71 mil­lion for SmartTrack plan­ning over the next two years, and an ad­di­tional $217.5 mil­lion for in­fra­struc­ture to sup­port GO ser­vice.

Coun­cil also agreed to pay all of the op­er­at­ing and reg­u­lar main­te­nance costs for provin­cially funded LRT lines that are ei­ther planned or al­ready un­der con­struc­tion on Eglin­ton, Finch West and Sheppard East, as well as op­er­at­ing and main­te­nance costs for RER ser­vice to SmartTrack sta­tions. It’s not clear how much the op­er­at­ing and main­te­nance costs for the pro­jects will be, or how the city will pay for them.

Some coun­cil­lors were adamant that the city not agree to take on the LRT op­er­at­ing costs. As the Star re­ported on Tues­day, a 2013 pro­vin­cial doc­u­ment sug­gested the prov­ince as­sumed it would pay at least some op­er­at­ing costs for new LRTs in the city.

City man­ager Peter Wal­lace told coun­cil that Toronto tak­ing on the LRT op­er­at­ing costs was a “pre­con­di­tion” set out by the prov­ince dur­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions for the new agree­ment. Coun­cil­lor Glenn De Baere­maeker (Ward 38, Scar­bor­ough Cen­tre), a pro­po­nent of the tran­sit agree­ment, said coun­cil couldn’t al­low un­cer­tainty about the details to pre­vent it from mov­ing ahead.

“You some­times have to move for­ward even when ev­ery­thing isn’t 100-per-cent guar­an­teed or per­fect,” he said.

STEVE RUS­SELL/TORONTO STAR

Coun­cil­lor Glenn De Baere­maeker, left, said coun­cil needed to move for­ward with tran­sit plans.

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