The fight over the future of Toronto's public transportation system will move into the open on Wednesday when city council has a special meeting on how to best spend more than $8 billion in provincial transit funding.
Mayor Rob Ford's plan to bury a large portion of the Eglinton Cross Town route has led TTC chair Karen Stintz to file a petition demanding the special meeting.
The petition asks council to renew its commitment to the 2009 Transit City plan of former mayor David Miller, which calls for light rail lines on Eglinton, Sheppard and Finch Avenues. It would also call for the Scarborough Rapid Transit line to be replaced by an LRT.
Ford is on record saying he wants subways — including an extension of the Sheppard line.
When asked about the petition on Monday, Ford refused to be drawn out.
Stintz said the mayor's plan is not doable. "There's no funded subway plan. An underground LRT is not a subway," she said.
The issue re-emerged in late January when Stintz proposed — with the knowledge of the mayor's office — a compromise plan for the Eglinton section of the line.
Instead of burying the entire line, Stintz proposed an underground section only in the portion that travels through the centre of the city. The section built east of Laird Drive would be above ground.
Stintz lost a vote at the last TTC board meeting, when other board members — who are also city councillors — voted down a proposal to study the option.
The Eglinton project and the extension of the Sheppard subway are expected to cost about $8.4 billion. Stintz estimated that her proposal would save about $2 billion — and suggested that money could be re-directed to the subway project.
This latest challenge to Mayor Ford comes just a day after city negotiators managed to iron out a last minute deal with CUPE 416, which represents about 6,000 outside workers, including garbage collectors, snow removal workers and paramedics.
Stintz's petition had her signature and the signatures of 23 other councillors.
"I must reiterate: there is no funded subway plan. An underground LRT is not a plan," said Stintz, who also admitted she will probably be replaced as TTC chair.
Stintz said the emergency meeting is needed so the provincial agency Metrolinx can be assured council is behind a single transit plan.
Metrolinx chairman Rob Prichard sent a letter last week asking for that kind of clarity from city council.
Also Monday, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said that the province would listen to what Toronto council has to say, should a decision be made to alter the current transit plan.
“We’re looking for the council to do one of two things: either affirm the agreement that we’ve already entered into and which work is proceeding, or, if you want to make a change to that, then you need to do that as a council,” McGuinty said.