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There's growing agreement about Toronto's next big transit project.
Even Rob Ford has expressed tentative support for a Downtown Relief Line that would link downtown to the Bloor-Danforth subway, and it appears that for once the mayor, the TTC, and city council might be headed in the same direction on the transit file.
But at least one man is intent on pursuing a different track.
Councillor James Pasternak warned Tuesday in a tweet that the DRL would be "unlikely to have Council support ... if [the] North York Relief Line [is] derailed."
The "North York Relief Line" is the name Pasternak has given a hypothetical Sheppard West subway extension that link the Yonge-Sheppard station with Downsview, connecting the two northern arms of the Yonge-University-Spadina line.
He's been a strong advocate for the project, which would run directly through his ward, and his Twitter comment was perceived by some as a threat to withhold support for the DRL unless the North York line were built first.
But in an interview Thursday, Pasternak clarified that he believes there's a need for both lines.
"We should be funding and supporting two projects, not one against the other," he said.
Asked if he would try to block a DRL if his preferred line wasn't included as part of the package, the councillor said, "I don't deal in hypotheticals."
Pasternak faces a lonely struggle in making the Sheppard West subway a reality, however. At a council meeting in February he asked staff to study the idea, but hasn't heard back. While he says that other councillors have privately expressed support, none have been as vocal.
Instead, the TTC board is set to consider a report on Wednesday that prioritizes the DRL.
That report warns that ridership demand for the Yonge subway could exceed its capacity by 2031, and a DRL is urgently needed to relieve the pressure. With funding scarce and the TTC breaking ridership records year after year, the commission is throwing itself behind the project.
"We're just holding back the tide. We really do need to start thinking about a relief for that line," TTC CEO Andy Byford told CBC Radio on Tuesday.
There's little doubt that the DRL would be much more traveled than Pasternak's line. According to the Pembina Institute, a fully completed DRL with connections to the Bloor-Danforth line in the east and west would attract 117 million passengers a year. Pasternak's line would only attract 13.9 million.
But Pasternak argues that his North York line, which Pembina estimates would cost $1.5 billion, would also help relieve pressure on Yonge by linking it to the University-Spadina line in the west. He also says it's important to give passengers on the existing Sheppard subway a continuous ride all the way to Downsview.
But the York Centre councillor acknowledges it could be hard to muster sufficient political will to build the North York line, because it "runs primarily through one ward, and there's one councillor who seems to be passionate about it."
When asked if his primary motivation in pushing for the subway line is pleasing voters in his ward, Pasternak said there's nothing wrong with trying to bring transit to his residents.
"I think there's 43 other councillors who are advocating for public transit through their ward," he said. "Certainly none of the $8 billion that we're [using for LRT projects] is going through my ward. So other councillors have actually been very successful."
Downtown Relief Line:
Cost, Phase 1 (from St. Andrew station to Pape): $3.2 billion*
Length, Phase 1: 6.68 km*
Cost per km, Phase 1: $446.2 million*
Annual riders, fully completed (from downtown to Bloor in the west and Danforth in the east): 117 million
Cost per rider, fully completed: $40
"North York Relief Line":
Cost: $1.5 billion
Length: 4 km
Cost per km: $375 million
Annual riders: 13.9 million
Cost per rider: $108
(Note: several errors in the statistics presented at the end of this article have been corrected)