Debate Continues about Transit Funding as Spadina Subway Extension Reaches a Milestone
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Debate Continues about Transit Funding as Spadina Subway Extension Reaches a Milestone

Mayor is opposed to new taxes to fund transit, TTC Chair Karen Stintz is in favour of them.

The extension of the University-Spadina subway line is a step closer to completion—or at least, 1.6 kilometers. Officials gathered this morning near the future site of the Sheppard West station to announce the completion of a portion of tunnel between Sheppard West and the future Finch West station. Twin boring machines affectionately known as “Holey” and “Moley” (so designated after a public naming contest) completed the north and south tunnels last week, and will now be removed at an extraction shaft near Keele Street and Finch Avenue to be redeployed.

Mayor Rob Ford took the opportunity to thank his provincial and federal partners for their funding commitments, and also to remind Torontonians which mode of public transit he believes the city should build: “Toronto needs this subway connection, and many more just like it,” he said, while also emphasizing that the project is creating as many as 20,000 direct and indirect jobs in the city and in York region. “No other, I say, no other form of transit if as cost effective and as useful over the long term.”

The 8.6 kilometer extension from Downsview Station up to Jane Street and Highway 7 in Vaughan is the first GTA subway project built with federal dollars. Ford’s own efforts to find private financing for a Sheppard East subway extension stalled earlier this year, and city council went ahead with Light Rail Transit (LRT) lines first proposed under former mayor David Miller.

We asked the mayor if he agreed with Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion’s renewed call for a new tax devoted to transit infrastructure. “We’ll find efficiencies. I’m not the one to implement new taxes…No, I don’t agree with a sales tax,” he replied. He then made a speedy exit as his staff discouraged media from questioning him en route to his vehicle.

TTC Chair Karen Stintz, by contrast, told us she “absolutely” agrees with McCallion that municipalities should consider a transit-pegged tax. Stintz said her preference is for a sales tax rather than tolls, saying “there’s lots of inherent problems around tolls that we don’t experience when we look at other forms of taxation.” Metrolinx, the provincial agency responsible for regional transit planning, will deliver a report next year that outlines funding options for the next quarter century of provincial transit infrastructure.

Associate Minister of National Defence Julian Fantino stood in for Minister of Transport Denis Lebel at today’s event. Fantino lauded the extension to Vaughan, where he has lived since 1981, as “a great thing for the community,” and added that he takes the subway downtown as often as he can. When we asked him if municipalities could expect stable future funding from the feds, he replied that “municipalities are not forgotten, and this is an example of that.” He cited the gas tax as one way Ottawa helps municipalities fund transit projects. As for repeated requests from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to create a national transit strategy, Fantino said he “can understand their issues and their concerns,” but did not suggest such a strategy was forthcoming.

Fantino also suggested that private-sector funding was still an option, and blamed the lack of planning and consensus at City Hall for Ford’s financing shortfall. “One of the issues, of course, is that there isn’t a definitive plan,” he told us. He went on to say that if the city could unite around subway planning, “it would encourage and attract a lot more private sector investment.”

Photos courtesy of the TTC.