Provincial transportation minister addresses reports that the Scarborough subway question has been reopened yet again.
Early this morning the Globe and Mail reported that the municipal and provincial governments were close to a new deal on transit, one that would see Scarborough get a subway to replace the aging RT line rather than the previously agreed upon LRT. Not three hours later transportation minister Glen Murray, speaking to reporters at an unrelated event, muddied those waters further, saying that he was not in the middle of negotiations with the city, that council needed to make up its mind about what it wants instead of holding contradictory votes every few months, that if council wants a subway it also needs a zoning and development plan to substantially increase density along the route, and that in the end it would be Queen’s Park that makes the final decision.
“I am really not fussed if it’s a subway or an LRT…our goal is to give the people of Scarborough a sufficient level of transit…Am I ready to drop everything and say ‘okay, yeah, we’re just going to do a subway?’ No.”
A subway is projected to cost about $1 billion more than the LRT. It would be shorter and have fewer stops, but it would eliminate the need to transfer vehicles at Kennedy station. It is also appealing to many Scarborough voters, who are in the midst of a provincial by-election—transit may well be the ballot box question for them, and some Liberal MPPs have been pressuring the premier to opt for a subway rather than an LRT in hopes of retaining that seat.
Nobody is clear on where, if the city and the province did agree to build a subway rather than an LRT, the extra money required to build it would come from. Blasting LRT critics—and especially PC leader Tim Hudak—Murray also reminded everyone that the LRT would not run on existing roads, and would not take road space away from cars. With harsh words for Rob Ford as well, Murray called on Toronto’s mayor to stand with him and demand that the federal government contribute to major infrastructure projects, and it has often done in the past.
City council will debate the issue, once again, at its meeting on July 16. Murray emphasized this morning that if council decides it wants a subway, it can’t be a matter of a simple vote: they would need to include a robust economic development plan that would make a subway a financially prudent investment in the region, making the case that Scarborough residents wouldn’t just enjoy a subway, but that the area will become dense enough to need one.