The sparks are flying over the Toronto Port Authority's plan for a pedestrian tunnel to the Island Airport. Is this just another path to airport expansion? Here's why it won't fly.[rssbreak]
The proposed tunnel may be illegal -? at least according to CommunityAIR's reading of regulations passed in May 2005 that prohibit "the port to build a bridge or similar fixed link between the mainland... and the Toronto Islands." Is a tunnel a fixed link? Toronto Port Authority (TPA)chair Mark McQueen says no. He writes in an email response to questions from NOW: "I don't think there's anything ‘similar' [his emphasis] between a bridge and a tunnel other than the fact that both involve the movement of people."
Fixing a hole
The TPA has only committed $7 million to the planned tunnel. Matching funds from the province are needed to get federal stimulus money.
The added wrinkle: federal stimulus projects must be "substantially completed" by March 2011 to qualify for funding.
And local councillor Adam Vaughan is already threatening to hold up the city permits needed for construction.
Dollars and sense
The TPA says a tunnel will cost $38 million. But that's only a "working budget," to quote McQueen. Chances are the costs will rise. The 80-metre underpass just completed at Lower Simcoe cost $44 million, and it's 40 metres shorter than the 120-metre tunnel proposed for the airport. The TPA has already spent a few mil on a new ferry to shuttle passengers back and forth across the Western Gap. Is it worth tens of millions more to save Porter passengers 90 seconds getting to their flights? Probably not, unless there's an ulterior motive, like allowing vehicles.
Say bye-bye to Little Norway Park
The tunnel dimensions are wide enough to allow two lanes of traffic. The 1983 Tripartite Agreement between the feds, the TPA and the city would block vehicular traffic to the Island Airport, but the TPA has an ace up its sleeve, so to speak: rights to a 30-metre-wide swath through Little Norway Park. A feeder road, perhaps? Queens Quay residents who have sat at the foot of Bathurst and watched cabs cue for arriving passengers believe it's only a matter of time.
McQueen is coy about whether the tunnel's construction would mean cutting up Little Norway.
"The tunnel concept remains just an idea at this point," he says. Well, a little more than an idea. A call for proposals for an environmental assessment has been issued.
The incredible expanding airport
The Tripartite Agreement is supposed to place specific limits on the airport. It cannot be expanded. Yet expand it has, with Porter Airlines adding more planes and more flights despite the fact that the other plan for a fixed link, i.e., a bridge, was defeated.
Running the show from Ottawa
Who's calling the shots at the TPA? Ostensibly, the feds. Seven of the TPA board's nine members are appointed by the federal government. Two of the TPA's more vocal critics on the board were replaced only yesterday morning (Wednesday, September 2) just a day before the TPA's annual general meeting. Ever since Harper's crew took over, evidence of interference from Ottawa, conflict of interest allegations involving a friend of Porter head Robert Deluce and possible spending irregularities have surfaced. The ouster of the board's former chair, staged with half of the board members absent from the meeting, may have been illegal, according to one legal opinion a TPA board member sought on the matter.
The military's designs
The Island Airport's looking weirdly like a base for military operations these days. Hercules C-130 cargo planes are not the only military craft using the airport for unspecified training flights. Earlier this month, Canadian Armed Forces Airbus A310s, planes used for midair refuelling, were spotted doing circuits around the airport, one with its landing gear deployed making an approach as if preparing to land. The defence minister has yet to respond to a letter from the TPA's McQueen about the department's military plans, if any, for the Island Airport. Noise complaints are down, says the TPA, so a few jets can't hurt, right? Stay tuned.
The media conspiracy
The Globe, the Post and now the Star have all jumped on the Porter bandwagon and TPA's tunnel vision. The Star has been particularly robust in its support, inviting members of the TPA board of directors to meet with the paper's editorial board and writing a glowing editorial. Could that have anything to do with the fact that Porter's a preferred airline of the Star Media Group and Star employees can fly Porter at discount rates? Just wondering.