2011 Villain: The Underground Eglinton LRT
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2011 Villain: The Underground Eglinton LRT

Nominated for: costing more and delivering less.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past twelve months. From December 12–23, the candidates for Mightiest and Meanest—and new this year, a reader’s write-in option! From December 26–29 you’ll be able to vote for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year, and we’ll reveal the results December 30.

Through the recession we’ve all heard our bosses and governments repeat the same fallacy: we’re all going to have to do more with less. Of course, you can rarely actually do more with less. Case in point: Toronto’s messed-up transit plans, starting with this year’s decision to cut routes while raising fares, but truly exemplified by the decision—made by Rob Ford, and later backed by Dalton McGuinty—to bury the Eglinton LRT.

Let’s talk straight: Transit City wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. It was a huge step forward for rapid transit in Toronto, but it was hardly a transit revolution. Still, it accomplished a great deal with relatively sparse funds and, significantly, it was supported by council and the province.

Rob Ford ditched the plan unilaterally, and while the province gave its okay, it’s likely that Dalton McGuinty figured $8.2 billion was already earmarked for Toronto, so if the new mayor wanted to hang himself in front of Ford Nation by using it for one project instead of seven, the Liberals were perfectly happy to give him the rope. It was a political win-win for Ford and McGuinty. For commuters, not so much. Nearly $4-billion got rerouted underground, just like that.

It’s worth noting that between David Miller and Rob Ford, most Torontonians never got a grasp on what light rail actually is. Some think it’s kinda like streetcars and some think it’s what you see on Spadina or St. Clair or the Scarborough RT. As a result, Rob Ford was able to go around telling us things like, “Most Torontonians prefer transit underground rather than on the street.” Yeah, well, duh. They’d probably prefer personal helicopters, pneumatic tubes, those cool cars from Minority Report or transporters even more. The question isn’t about what they want, it’s about what makes the most sense and what the city can afford.

Speaking of things most Torontonians didn’t know about the LRT, it’s a safe bet most never realized the central section of the LRT they wanted to bury was going to be buried anyway. There was never going to be a streetcar rumbling through the Yonge-Eglinton intersection. You only have to drive the great section east of Laird, where it was going to come above ground, to see there isn’t much streetscape with which to interfere.

There is, on the other hand, that pesky Don River to traverse. Going on the pre-existing surface road was going to be a piece of cake. Ford’s new super duper subterranean solution will cost untold millions, if it’s even physically possible. That depends on whether they tunnel way down deep or merely build a whole new bridge. Nobody knows because the project wasn’t fully costed and analyzed before Transit City was thrown out (there are similar issues out west, with Black Creek). And that’s just one example of money being wasted—and, more to the point, 45 kilometres of other rapid transit not being built—because of Rob Ford’s pet obsession and Dalton McGuinty’s decision not to fight him on it.

Rapid transit on Eglinton is great. An LRT is super great. A buried LRT is super duper great with cherries on top. But we can’t afford it without making huge sacrifices across the city. We will be paying for these sacrifices in infrastructure and opportunity costs for years to come. So instead, we’re doing less, and paying a lot more for it.