2015 Villain: SmartTrack
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2015 Villain: SmartTrack

Nominated for: prioritizing political optics over the transit solutions we need.

Torontoist is reflecting on 2015 by naming our Heroes and Villains—the people, places, things, and ideas that have had the most positive and negative impacts on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until midnight on January 7. At noon on January 8, we’ll reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

SmartTrack by Brett Lamb

The fact that SmartTrack appears more and more to be a potential disaster should surprise precisely nobody. Torontoist wrote extensively about the many ways in which SmartTrack was ill-conceived—both in its planning and in how it would potentially be funded. From the beginning, this transit proposal lacked a great deal of meaningful substance beyond its usefulness as a campaign prop.

The cracks are starting to show, most pointedly with the recent HDR report on potential SmartTrack routes to Pearson airport. The report (which cost the city $2.4 million) makes clear that going along Eglinton will almost certainly require cost-prohibitive tunnelling, so that’s out; we’re down to looking at various off-grade options.

But what was not included in the HDR report—at least not the version released to the public—was how much the various “western spur” routes would cost. The City has in fact received cost estimates for all potential routes; they were included in the HDR report. Chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat confirmed that.. But we, the public, have not seen them, and City officials refuse to explain why that is the case.

The answer to the question of why is fairly obvious: the numbers are bad. They are very bad.

This really isn’t surprising. Transit always ends up costing more than initial projections in any sense, so there was going to be some inflation from the magically low $8 billion John Tory claimed SmartTrack would cost during the election, but the Globe and Mail reports that their sources say the Mount Dennis-to-Pearson portion of SmartTrack alone could cost as much as $5 billion. That’s more than half of the eight billion John Tory promised he could deliver—for four stops out of the twenty-two he claimed would exist. And remember, he also claimed he could get this thing built in seven years. (He’s got slightly less than six years left now.)

John Tory, meanwhile, claims he hasn’t seen any report on SmartTrack’s costs. You would think the mayor would want to see such an important report. Or maybe he purposely hasn’t seen it, but his advisers told him about it. Or maybe bad news is being kept from him. Regardless, these types of games remind one of what Rob Ford used to do all the time. It is disappointing to see John Tory do the same.

Council is scheduled to debate SmartTrack early in 2016, and it’s time to admit that SmartTrack is a boondoggle in the making. It was a flawed idea from the beginning—a half-baked policy proposal designed to replace tested and paid-for transit plans like the Eglinton LRT extension to Pearson.

Take it out behind the shed and kill it with an axe.