NEWS

Toronto subway debate resumes today

07/17/2013 06:41 EDT | Updated 09/16/2013 05:12 EDT
Toronto city council is expected to vote today on whether Scarborough will get a subway or a light-rail line after Tuesday’s heated council meeting spilled over into a second day.

Much of yesterday's meeting was spent debating the cost difference between the two options.

The city has a funded agreement with the province to build a surface light-rail line from Kennedy station — where the Bloor-Danforth subway reaches its eastern terminus — to the Scarborough Town Centre.

But in May council voted to instead examine building a subway along the route. The subway option will cost at least $1 billion more than the $1.8 billion the province originally committed to the project.

A city manager's report says making up the difference would require a property tax increase, changes to how the city collects fees from developers, and a contribution from the federal government – somewhere between $400 million and $700 million – which has so far yet to materialize.

On one side of the debate are those who feel light rail is cheaper, will have more stations (seven vs. three) and is fully funded by the province.

'We don't know where the money is coming from'

Those who support a subway say it avoids having passengers change trains at Kennedy station and provides Scarborough with better transit in the long term.

Mayor Rob Ford has long argued that Scarborough residents want and deserve a subway, but much of Tuesday’s debate focused on questions – many of them that remain unanswered – about how the subway option’s extra expense would be covered.

At one point while being grilled by on the council floor, Ford seemed to suggest that $333 million of federal money earmarked for the Sheppard light rail line could be used for a Scarborough subway.

Ford later backtracked, saying that the federal money for Sheppard LRT had been "committed" and that the city needs new federal money for the Scarborough subway.

The mayor also came under fire for suggesting a Scarborough light rail line would require tearing up streets. In fact, the line will run along its own separated right-of-way.

"Do you know about the line we're debating today?" Coun. Josh Matlow asked Ford.

Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong put forward a motion to defer the decision, saying the city needs more time to clarify the funding questions.

“We don’t know where the money is coming from,” he said. “Our partners in the provincial and federal government have not specified what money will be available.

He also called the switch to the subway option a "vote-buying exercise" with an upcoming provincial byelection in the riding of Scarborough-Guildwood and Scarborough shaping up as a key battleground in the 2014 municipal elections.

The province has set a deadline of Aug. 2 for the city to make an “evidence-based” decision on light rail or a subway.

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