TTC CEO Andy Byford / Photo by Ben Spurr
Toronto's LRT network may not be headed for another messy political dispute after all.
Despite a TTC report slamming the province's approach to delivering the massive transit project, the commission and the provincial agency in charge of building the rail lines have politely agreed to disagree, and intend to move on.
A TTC review made public Monday warns that Metrolinx's reliance on the private sector to head up remaining design and construction work on the Eglinton Crosstown LRT could lead to major traffic disruptions, insufficient community consultation, and a three-year delay in completing the project, which Metrolinx plans to finish by 2020.
While some observers had feared the report signaled another battle over the LRT lines that Mayor Rob Ford nearly killed off, it appears there is no open rift between the TTC and Metrolinx.
At a TTC board meeting Wednesday commissioners asked Metrolinx to respond to issues raised in the report, but board members and TTC CEO Andy Byford went out of their way to indicate they are still fully committed to working with the province, which is putting up $8.4 billion to build LRT lines on Eglinton, Sheppard East, Finch West, and the current route of the Scarborough RT.
"It's not meant to be awkward, it's not meant to be argumentative," Byford said of the report.
"The only reason we submitted the report today, we do have a number of concerns that we think needed to be aired at the commission. That's happened, and the commission has now given a clear direction they wish us to pursue."
"We've always recognized that the funding model and the delivery model is absolutely the prerogative of the province," Byford said. "There's never been any question on that because ultimately, it's their money."
But aside from highlighting potential problems with the LRT lines, the public airing of the TTC's concerns could shift responsibility for any future construction problems to the province. The commission is still dealing with fallout from the controversial implementation of the St. Clair streetcar right-of-way, and if problems do crop up on the LRT lines, some commissioners are hoping to impress on the public that the TTC is not responsible.
"We have to be very clear in branding the construction projects in terms of who is responsible for them," commissioner Peter Milczyn told the meeting.
TTC chair Karen Stintz said going public with the report was not about placing blame, but about letting citizens know which agency is in charge of different parts of the project. While Metrolinx will technically own and handle building the lines, the TTC is expected to operate them.
"It's about making sure everyone's accountable for the things they're responsible for," Stintz said.
In what would be a major development for Toronto public transit, Stintz also revealed that Metrolinx has indicated privately that as part of master agreement to be finalized by September, the province will commit to paying the operating costs of all of the new lines. Toronto hasn't received a provincial subsidy to operate public transit since the 1990's.
"We incur costs now operating buses on Eglinton, Sheppard, and Finch," Stintz told reporters. "And what the master agreement will be is, [Metrolinx will pay the difference] between what it costs us now, and what it will cost us when the new lines are built."
Metrolinx has yet to comment on the LRT network's operating costs.
The TTC report debated Wednesday included a review of the LRT network by transit experts from the American Public Transit Association, and found that Metrolinx's plan to use a public private partnership model known as alternative finance procurement would negatively effect delivery of the 19-km line.
Metrolinx intends to shift responsibility for design and construction management of the Crosstown from the TTC to a private contractor procured by Infrastructure Ontario, a process the report concluded would necessitate halting work for two years and render the 2020 target date "unrealisitic."
Pursuing that timeline would require building many stations at once, the report found, leading to intense traffic disruption, particularly in the downtown section of the line, where crews will use a "cut-and-cover" method to bury the stations underground.
TTC staff also concluded that the commission, which up until this year has taken the lead on the project, was in a better position than a contractor to consult with the public and alter its designs to respond to unforeseen problems.
Metrolinx concedes that the 2020 completion date is "aggressive," but still doable.