Ontario Transportaiton Minister Glen Murray speaks to reporters outside Rob Ford's office, July 15. Photo by Ben Spurr.
Mayor Rob Ford is predicting that council will abandon plans for a Scarborough light rail line at its meeting this week, and back the subway he's championed instead.
After meeting with Ontario Transportation Minister Glen Murray in the mayor's office Monday morning, Ford said he was close to delivering an underground rail project to Toronto's eastern suburb, one of the key promises of his 2010 election campaign.
"I truly believe the majority of councillors have seen the light, and they've listened to the taxpayers, and they want subways," the mayor said at a press conference Monday afternoon, "so I'm sure we're going to be building subways very shortly in this great city."
But if council does vote in favour of extending the Bloor-Danforth subway line from Kennedy station to Sheppard Ave. as a replacement for the aging Scarborough RT, it will do so without a clear plan for how to pay for it.
A report released by the city manager last week determined that the subway could cost up to $1.6 billion more than the $1.8-billion LRT, which under an agreement signed last November would be paid for entirely by the province.
The manager laid out a plan to raise the necessary millions through development charges and a property tax increase of 1.1 to 2.4 per cent over three years, but the proposal is contingent on the federal government providing up to $660 million and the province transferring the entire $1.8 billion it originally budgeted for the light rail project to a subway. So far the province has stated it would only hand over $1.48 billion if the subway were approved.
Meanwhile Ford is backing a smaller tax hike than the one proposed by the city manager, at an annual rate of 0.25 per cent over four years.
After Murray emerged from his meeting with Ford, the minister would not commit to giving the subway the full $1.8 billion. He made clear that provincial transit agency Metrolinx would not consider diverting money from the other three Toronto light rail projects it's building.
"Metrolinx [has] identified approximately in the area of $1.4 billion in savings," he said. "We are not going to reduce other projects."
But he left the door to supporting the subway wide open, saying "We'll look at what council says."
How much the feds would kick in is also up in the air. Ford met with federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty on Saturday, and although the get-together didn't produce a firm funding promise, the mayor remains confident Ottawa will come to the table.
"No one's absolutely nailing down any particular number, but he said there's infrastructure money there and he'd be more than happy to work with us but he needs direction from council," Ford said of Flaherty.
The mayor told reporters he will meet again with Murray and Flaherty if council votes for a subway this week.
Although there appears to be a willingness at all three levels of government to find a way to make the subway proposal work, at least one councillor believes it would be a huge mistake for the city to abandon the LRT.
"I feel sorry," said Councillor Janet Davis. "The people of Scarborough now, if we go in this direction, they're going to face another huge delay before they see any rapid transit... this [subway] project probably won't get built beyond 2023."
Davis argues that the LRT is a better option because it would have seven stops, as opposed to the proposed subway's three, would serve more people, and could be built quickly. Already $85 million has been spent on the light rail proposal and Metrolinx was set to begin tendering construction contracts next month.
"We have the funding for it... we should be proceeding," said Davis.