Photo by Ben Spurr
A TTC meeting descended into shouting and accusations of dishonesty Wednesday, after the board approved studies for two subway lines along routes that are already slated for LRTs.
The unexpected move contradicts the transit plans council approved earlier this year, and threatens to reopen the fractious transit debate that many thought had ended in March with council's decision to build surface rail instead of Rob Ford's subway scheme.
Councillor Josh Matlow, who doesn't sit on the TTC, blasted the board's decision as "dishonest decision making."
"That was folly, it was bizarre, it was bad politics," he told reporters. "I believe this is a potentially disastrous decision on the part of the TTC. What they are attempting to do is reopen a debate that was painstakingly had only a few months ago."
The main item on Wednesday's agenda was a report on the Downtown Relief Line, which TTC staff says must be built soon to ease pressure on the Yonge subway. As expected the board affirmed the DRL as a priority project, with little debate.
But afterwards TTC vice-chair Councillor Glenn de Baeremaeker moved a surprise motion asking staff to report on replacing the Scarborough RT with a subway. Councillor Peter Milczyn moved a separate motion requesting a study on building an underground Sheppard line from McCowan station to Don Mills.
Earlier this year, de Baeremaeker supported TTC chair Karen Stintz's successful efforts to resurrect the Transit City LRT plan, which included surface rail lines on Sheppard and the Scarborough RT route, as well as on Finch West and Eglinton.
At the time, Stintz argued surface rail was the most cost-effective option for the routes. On Wednesday however, she voted to approve the subway reports, saying they wouldn't necessarily change plans to go with LRT.
Councillor John Parker, who sits on the commission board, was livid after the meeting. He was out of the room when the votes took place, but as the meeting broke up he berated his colleagues for undermining the DRL decision by reviving the prospect of a Scarborough subway.
"You just diluted the impact of a good decision by - at the same meeting - passing a stupid decision. I don't know how you could do it! I don't know how you could do it!" Parker shouted at de Baeremaeker.
"It's a stupid, stupid irresponsible [decision], and you shouldn't have done it... You just undercut our credibility."
But de Baeremaeker, who represents the Scarborough Centre ward where the proposed subway would run, said the project is worth looking into because it would only cost $500 million more than the LRT that Metrolinx has agreed to build on the route.
"I think it's a subway system in Scarborough that we can afford," he told reporters, adding that the extra $500 million could possibly be found by dipping into the city's year-end surpluses.
De Baeremaeker denied the suggestion that he was pursuing an improbable transit project in order to appease voters in his ward.
"I think my voters in Scarborough are very happy with me, I work very hard," he said. "Voters will decide in the next election, based on the subway and many other issues."
Stintz played down the impact of the reports, saying that work for the LRT lines will go ahead, and "nothing that the commission did today changes that decision."
She did predict that TTC staff would conclude that extending the Boor-Danforth subway east from Kennedy makes more sense than replacing the Scarborough RT with light rail. But she acknowledged it may not be financially feasible.
"Asking for a feasibility study is well within our rights and, I think, valuable information for the public," she said.
The two reports are expected to come back to the board in January, and it's unlikely they will lead to new subways, at least not directly.
The $8.4 billion being used for transit expansion in Toronto is all provincial money, and the ultimate decision rests with Queen's Park. A master agreement between the city, TTC, and Metrolinx that would bind all parties to using that money for the LRT projects is expected as early as next week.
But the landscape could change if PC leader Tim Hudak wins the election to replace Premier Dalton McGuinty, expected early next year. A day after McGuinty's abrupt resignation, Hudak held a press conference outside City Hall at which he vowed to divert any available provincial funds towards underground transit.