The Bad Decision on the Scarborough Subway Extension Gets Worse
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The Bad Decision on the Scarborough Subway Extension Gets Worse

Despite many other City priorities that require funding, John Tory maintains his support for the beleaguered project.

File photo by David Hains.

File photo by David Hains.

The projected cost of the one-stop Scarborough subway has increased by almost 50 per cent, according to a report in the Globe and Mail.

Before the update, the most recent estimate had the six-kilometre subway extension pegged at a cost of $2 billion. With more detailed engineering analysis, that number has jumped to $2.9 billion, according to the report.

The projected cost of an accompanying 17-stop LRT network has also increased, from $1 billion to $1.6 billion.

The updates leave the city $1 billion short in funding while they also grapple with limited room within their self-imposed debt ceiling, and the mayor refuses to increase property taxes greater than inflation.

John Tory defended the project at a press conference, blaming the previous council for approving the project without detailed engineering, but that nonetheless the City has to move on with it. Tory campaigned on supporting the Scarborough subway extension, as well as his SmartTrack plan, and added that it’s a part of his mandate.

The mayor also said that while some people seem intent on being negative toward the subway extension, they might be driven by an animus toward Scarborough. He called the proposal a sound decision.

In addition to rising costs, ridership estimates make it increasingly difficult to make that claim. Ridership projections have significantly declined from the previously proposed $3.56 billion three-stop subway extension that Council agreed to in October 2014. At that time, Council voted to forgo a seven-stop LRT extension that would have been funded by the Province, including operating and maintenance costs. Technically, this LRT agreement with Metrolinx and the Province still stands.

In the three-stop subway plan that Council passed at the time, City staff estimated peak ridership levels at 14,000 people per hour by 2031—a number close enough to justify a subway (15,000 is the lower threshold to justify a subway). Ridership levels for the one-stop extension, however, are half that—only 7,300. Tory has argued that this ridership is comparable to other terminal stations throughout the city. However, this claim does not account for the cost or length of this particular route, which is orders of magnitude longer and more expensive. (The Star analyzes this argument in greater detail.)

Tory’s response to the subway update also undermines his positioning on some of the most important City items. He has repeatedly argued that the City needs to look after its spending in order to put its fiscal house in order, and has used this argument to downplay substantive new revenue tools. Shortly after dismissing the extra billion dollars in cost as just something to take care of today, the mayor went to a Police Services Board where the police will be asked to tighten their belts and endure a three-year hiring freeze.

There is also the issue of opportunity cost. The City faces many challenges on both infrastructure issues and social services, and a political unwillingness to raise new taxes to fund those needs. This gap is made worse by over-investing in a project of dubious merit. The City has more than $23 billion in unfunded capital projects that it has approved, and many of them are essential, like TTC maintenance, flood protection, and housing needs.

To better understand the one-stop Scarborough subway opportunity cost, here’s what the City could invest in with $2.9 billion.

  • Fix every TCHC unit in the city ($2.7 billion)
  • Don River flood protection ($900 million), Waterfront LRT ($600 to $900 million, depending on the route), and 30 new full service community centres across the city ($890 million)
  • Finance all of the unfunded TTC capital projects over the next 10 years ($2.7 billion), including: 372 subway cars, 201 Wheel-Trans buses, 60 additional LRV streetcars, 774 buses, a fire ventilation upgrade, and more
  • Almost fund Phase 1 of the Downtown Relief Line from Pape to Osgoode Station, which would serve about five times the ridership