More rea­sons to axe this folly

Toronto Star - - NEWS -

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

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