The political perverts who pop-ulate City Hall, Queen's Park and Parliament Hill have their priorities all wrong. How else do you explain why the TTC is forced to deal with its budget crunch by hiking fares another dime while the powers that be are going full steam ahead with a plan to spend more than $170 million on a glorified on-ramp for the Gardiner Expressway?"There's something wrong with this picture," says downtown councillor Olivia Chow. And she's absolutely right. Here's why.
The on-ramp in question is also known locally as the Front Street Extension. It was first proposed in the old city of Toronto's central waterfront transportation study way back in 1983. The plan was to extend Front Street two kilometres west of Bathurst to Dufferin Street and connect it to the elevated expressway near Exhibition Place.
It all sounded great to the transportation planners. Money was tight, though, and there always seemed to be some other project in greater need of the taxpayers' hard-earned cash. So the Front Street Extension only existed on a set of blueprints stashed away in a drawer at City Hall somewhere.
But then along came Toronto's quest for the 2008 Olympics and all those grandiose designs for a rejuvenated waterfront. Suddenly, the province and the feds wanted to be part of the great vision, and they didn't mind chipping in a few hundred million bucks each. The senior levels of government even went so far as to agree to a few initial projects to make it look like something was actually happening down by the lake while the International Olympic Committee considered the city's bid for the Summer Games.
One of those projects turned out to be the Front Street Extension. But it was no longer going to be an entrance to the Gardiner. Rather, it would be a key component in a plan to demolish the concrete-and-steel eyesore and replace it with a below-grade thoroughfare that wouldn't be such a barrier between the downtown core and the post-Olympic waterfront.
Robert Fung, the politically well-connected financier chosen to head the so-called Waterfront Revitalization Corporation was squarely behind the proposal to dismantle the expressway. So was the city's planning staff. In fact, the consensus was that tearing down the Gardiner was absolutely necessary if the revitalization plan was to succeed.
But, as it happened, Toronto never got the 2008 Olympics. Political interest in the waterfront plan soon waned. And by the tine Fung finally got around to unveiling his long-awaited business plan for redevelopment last month, demolition of the Gardiner was no longer a priority. He said the proposal would require more study and it would likely take two or three years to make a final decision.
"We will examine all the different ways of dealing with the Gardiner -- including not dealing with it, leaving it up," Fung said on October 17.
Mayor Mel Lastman has definitely gone cold on the idea of spending $3 billion to tear down and replace the expressway with a new road. "There's a lot of members of council who don't want it to come down, and I can't say as I blame them," Lastman said last month. Yet the six-lane extension of Front Street is still on track. The funding has been approved and an environmental assessment of the project is about to start.
"This project was completely connected with taking down the Gardiner," Chow pointed out this week. "Now that we're not taking it down, we shouldn't be continuing with the extension. It will only bring more traffic into the downtown. The money allocated to the extension can be better spent dealing with our transit crisis."
Unfortunately, the province and the feds have given no indication that they'd be willing to redirect their two-thirds of the project's funding to the TTC.
"The senior levels of government want to invest in something fancy rather than invest in the basics," Chow maintained. "The waterfront is seen to be wrapped in all these very fantastic visionary ideas. It's good for ribbon-cutting purposes. But at the end of the day, if we have more smog, transit fares going up and service declining, there's something wrong.'
Councillor David Miller, a TTC member, agrees. "The Front Street Extension was sold as being absolutely required to bring the Gardiner down," he said. "A number of us supported the project on that basis. But the Gardiner is being rethought, and the extension should be rethought, too.'
But Miller conceded it will be "a challenge" to convince Ottawa and Queen's Park that the funding they provided for waterfront revitalization should be redirected to transit. He did have a suggestion, however. "Perhaps we should think about using the Front Street Extension itself as the beginning of a transit way," Miller said. "You could have the Lakeshore street cars connect along Front Street and come right downtown, which would give you rapid transit to southern Etobicoke."
You've got to admit, that sounds a hell of a lot better than a $170-million on-ramp.