Toronto Slowly Learns More About SmartTrack
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Toronto Slowly Learns More About SmartTrack

Information isn't coming out quickly, and doesn't always look good.

Image courtesy of the John Tory campaign. Larger version here.

Senior civil servants walked into the mayor’s office today with a sign saying “What we know so far.” We don’t know what the subject of the meeting might be—maybe they will discuss Game of Thrones fan theories—but SmartTrack [Campaign PDF] has been a subject of conversation this week.

With reporting by the Globe and Star, we have learned about known unknowns on the transit file. We don’t know whether SmartTrack will descend into a Rumsfeldian-type quagmire, but here’s a rundown of what we have gathered from the past week.

Last Thursday, the Star reported that the costs for the Western Spur, the most controversial part of John Tory’s SmartTrack proposal, were missing from a third-party consultant report submitted to council.

The proposed Western Spur is an eight kilometre stretch from Mount Dennis to the airport—about 15 per cent of the length of SmartTrack. During the campaign, significant concerns were raised about this part of the proposal. The campaign had used an outdated version of Google Maps for their planning, land the campaign assumed the City owned had been sold, tunnelling would be needed, and houses would have to be expropriated along the route. His campaign dismissed the analysis as trivial and politically motivated, and referred to the Globe‘s reporting on the subject as “grotesque.” The campaign continued to insist that the project could be done for $8 billion in total, and would be completed within seven years.

Over a year later, not much more is publicly known about the transit proposal. Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat told the Star that a high-level cost analysis had been provided, but was not included in the report.

For his part Tory said in a scrum that he had “seen no document, no draft, no summary, no report.”

A Star editorial referred to the Western Spur as “the Voldemort of municipal politics,” and called for the report to be made public like the others.

At this point, we know that a document exists, but we don’t know what it says.

On Tuesday, we learned that the Western Spur—just 15 per cent of the length of the $8 billion proposal—could cost as much as $5 billion. The Globe reported that the so-called mystery report referred to in the Star article puts a high-level cost estimate of the Western Spur at $3-5 billion, depending on the alignment. The route Tory proposed during his campaign is reportedly the most expensive of the options.

The cost of extending the Eglinton Crosstown LRT to the airport, referred to as the base case, would be $1.3 billion. Using the midpoint of $4 billion, that means the difference between the two transit plans represents as much money as keeping the TCHC capital repair backlog in good standing over the next 10 years.

The information indicates that Tory’s plan as proposed may go dramatically over budget, or the Western Spur may not be a feasible choice. Also significant is what the mayor and his team know about the reports, and how much they’re sharing with the public.

In a scrum the morning after the Globe article was posted, the mayor offered answers that seemed at odds with one another.

The preliminary report was sent back to consultants for further “refining,” but Tory said he had not seen it.

Speaking to the Sun, Tory opened the door to abandoning the Western Spur if necessary, “The concept I put forward was heavy rail and so I remain committed to that until I see studies that tell me that there be some reason why it isn’t viable or the best option—if there are such studies.”

But as transit advocate and Torontoist contributor Steve Munro pointed out on Twitter, some facts about SmartTrack are just unavoidable.

SmartTrack will be debated at council in early 2016.