More reasons to axe this folly
It’s a colossal waste of money, but that’s not the worst thing about Toronto’s planned one-stop Scarborough subway extension. With a revised cost of almost $3 billion, the biggest harm wrought by this dismal project is the crippling injury of lost opportunity.
Money spent on the Scarborough project could serve as a hefty down-payment on public transit that Toronto truly needs — in particular, on a subway “relief line” to ease pressure on the Yonge subway. Passenger congestion is approaching crisis levels on this route — the backbone of the entire system — especially at the Yonge-Bloor station at rush hour.
Relief is sorely needed. But instead of focusing transit dollars where they would do the most good, Queen’s Park and Mayor John Tory remain wedded to an ill-conceived Scarborough subway extension that has more to do with political pandering than with getting riders where they need to go.
Tory revealed last week that the bill for adding just one additional station to the Bloor-Danforth line has soared to a staggering $2.9 billion. Originally estimated at an already-excessive $2 billion, an engineering analysis revealed that pushing this route out to Scarborough City Centre would, in fact, cost a great deal more.
It turns out that tunnelling will have to run much deeper than originally expected; the station will need be deeper, too; and protecting against a high water table in the area will require considerably more concrete than initially planned.
Toronto ratepayers are responsible for all cost over-runs on this project. And the Scarborough subway has already burdened them with an extraordinary property tax levy that’s set to drain more than $1,200 from the average household. Now there’s another $900 million to be covered, but Tory appears unperturbed.
“My support for a subway connection to Scarborough has not changed,” he assured reporters. “People want us to get on with building transit in this city.”
That’s certainly what people want. But sinking almost $3 billion underground in Scarborough means there will be less public transit in Toronto over the long run.
Tory insists there’s money available to cover the increased cost of his reckless subway extension, but it’s hard to see where. City manager Peter Wallace warned a few weeks ago that there’s no cash available to pay for several major capital projects already approved by city council, including transit expansion and reconfiguring the Gardiner Expressway.
The total value of this unfunded work, called the “capital overhang,” was estimated to be as high as $29 billion.
As if to echo former mayor Rob Ford’s futile claim that businesses would pay for new subways, Tory said he would work with the private sector to reduce costs.
But he’s ignoring the obvious. The best way to cut the outrageous cost of the Scarborough subway extension is to scrap it and return to the original plan to serve the area through an ultra-modern light-rail line. The province was willing to cover the entire $1.48-billion cost of that route and also pay for its operating and maintenance costs. It was Ford’s folly to throw away this deal in a mindless push for “subways, subways, subways.”
Despite all the evidence against a Scarborough subway, Tory remains on board for one unseemly reason: residents there strongly favour underground transit over light rail. The mayor would rather pander to those voters than serve the interests of the whole city — and he’s willing to spend billions of public dollars to do it.
To be fair, he’s not alone. The Liberal government, making the same calculation, affirmed its commitment to the subway on Monday. That’s unlikely to change with a provincial byelection to be called by September in Scarborough—Rouge River, just north of the planned subway stop.
City council represents a last glimmer of hope for Toronto’s beleaguered transit riders. If a majority puts the brakes on this misbegotten project there may yet be a way to get light rail moving again, benefiting all commuters — in Scarborough and beyond.
The mayor would rather pander to some voters than serve the interests of the whole city — and he’s willing to spend billions of public dollars to do it