LORINC: Why City Council’s Scarborough subway is another undecision

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Okay, so now what?

After last week’s multi-act debacle, the question hovering over Toronto city council’s Scarborough subway gamble is the obvious one: how long will it take the Harper Tories to respond to a council flip-flop that will direct well over $1 billion in new public spending to a municipality Canadians love to hate?

Before I get to the timelines, it’s important to note what won’t be important viz federal decision-making:

• Paula Fletcher’s motion “requesting” that the province and the feds “commit their portion of the funding by September 30, 2013. Although it carried 28-16, there’s no “or else” provision, which means the other orders are free to ignore Councillor Fletcher’s initiative. Absent a two-thirds majority to re-open – hey, anything’s possible, but I’m not going to wait up for that one – there’s no reason to think council has any intention of holding their funding partners feet to the flames.

• The war of mutually-assured destruction between TTC chair Karen Stintz and Glen (“take my Blackberry, please”) Murray, the soon-to-be-former Ontario transportation minister. Ottawa can always wait. It costs the feds absolutely nothing to not spend money in Toronto. CP24’s Stephen LeDrew’s comical peace-making claims notwithstanding, the City and the province can continue to haggle over that AWOL $400 million for as long as they want. The feds just have to sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

Here, rather, are the real timelines: As city manager Joe Pennachetti confirmed in council last week, the City has to submit a formal proposal for an as-yet unspecified quantum of subway extension dollars under the Building Canada Fund, including Toronto’s “fair share” of the P3 Canada Fund (as the motion stated).

He needn’t hurry. The deadline for the last tranche of funding [PDF] was June 14, 2013, with formal evaluations of said applications not expected to be complete until next March. But according to an Ottawa source who is familiar with federal infrastructure programs, Ottawa was on track to deplete the balance of the P3 fund by the end of this year. (As an ironic aside, the largest P3 Canada grant to date, for $250 million, went out this spring to  Edmonton’s…LRT system  [PDF].)

In other words, the City now has to wait until the provincial Liberals and the federal Conservatives re-negotiate the Canada-Ontario Infrastructure Framework Agreement (the previous one is here), which enables the transfer of our portion of the new seven-year/$53 billion Building Canada Fund, announced in Jim Flaherty’s last budget. My source says that agreement will likely be signed at some point next year, at which point the Scarborough subway extension proposal can be submitted.

The Ontario-federal infrastructure negotiations have always been politically fraught, and this next round will be no exception. And from Stephen Harper’s perspective, there’s a bit of a dilemma: the Tories probably want to give Ford something to help him get re-elected. But by the same token, they’d be loathe to hand that very same something to Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals if it means helping her defeat Tim Hudak. My guess, in fact, is that a Hudak victory is more important to Harper than a Ford win, so the feds have every incentive to drag out this decision until the Wynne Liberals are safely relegated to the Opposition benches.

So in all likelihood, it may well be a year or more before Ottawa antes up a dollar figure for its share. And if the number is anything less than 50% of net capital costs — the ask in the winning motion from council last week — we get to wade into yet another swamp of haggling over who fills the gap. Until those funding commitments get sorted out, the city won’t likely begin spending money on an EA for this subway or preliminary engineering and planning studies. All this manoeuvering, I should add, will take place in a double-election year.

Conservatively, the re-approval delays, all the extra regulatory requirements, and the inevitable political horse-trading in council will add two to three years to this scheme, bringing the expected completion date to 2026.

By the way, Mr. Ford, there’s a hefty cost to your ambition: 2% annual inflation alone over three years on a $2.3 billion project will adds almost $150 million. It makes the #StClairDisaster cost-overruns look like chump change.

Post-script: Darts & Laurels from last week’s circus

laurel-iconLaurel: Janet Davis, for trying to warn Council that the proposed Scarborough subway tax hikes will be competing with anticipating water rate hikes to help finance storm water management infrastructure upgrades.

laurel-iconLaurel: Denzil Minnan-Wong, for breaking with council’s conservatives and daring to declare the plan to be half-baked.

laurel-iconLaurel: Nick Leeson, the Green Party’s Scarborough-Guildwood candidate, who — unlike the NDP’s Adam Giambrone — has the  courage to publicly back light rail as the most cost-effective rapid transit solution.

dart-iconDart: Joe Mihevc, for pulling the trigger on a fully funded transit deal mainly to help Glen De Baeremaeker become more electable in 2014. What was he thinking?

dart-iconDart: Glen Murray, for conducting himself with appalling stupidity last week. Since when do ministers of the Crown get into Twitter wars?

dart-iconDart: Kathleen Wynne, both for failing to control a loose-cannon minister and allowing her campaign tacticians to play politics with a multi-billion-dollar contract.

dart-iconDart: Karen Stintz, for handing Ford what he craved most: a fulfilled campaign promise, and a slow train to Scarborough.

photo by Craig James White

7 comments

  1. Given the Sep. 30 deadline there’s always the chance that Council could decide that they’ve given Rob F/ Glen D’s subway gambit a try, and agree to pull back before LRT is delayed.
    Listening to Mihevc’s emotional ‘reasoning’ was annoying. Was he just adding tight strings to a motion they couldn’t stop or was it politics? Once you move a major amendment like that you’re expected to vote for the motion.
    Minister Murray is a loose cannon dreamer who needs to be replaced.
    Hard to be too angry with Wynne for allowing TO council to make an irresponsible decision. She not only got Councillors like Ford to propose property tax hikes for transit, but the quick response and realistic figure, put the fund raising onus on the Feds & Councillors. Too bad subway (and ART) booster, Murray fumbled the message.
    As for Ford plans, a happy Doug suggested this week (RF talked similarly in past) that if no one hands over more money, they’ll just build however many ‘subways’ $1.4 billion can build (1 station?). Would love to see the cost/ benefit analysis on that.

  2. The undecision is about par for the course – because the whole issue has been pitched the wrong way and so no decision looks good.

    Here’s the problem — Scarborough Town Center is a major Transit Hub that is not well served by Rapid Transit – what a mess. There are buses galore to all parts of Scarborough, GO Transit connections and so on and only the sad RT to connect it to the rest of the city.

    Scarborough residents are mad, angry and fed up with the RT and they should be for a transit line that never kept up with the times.

    I’ve had the unfortunate experience in the past of taking the RT daily to work. I *hated” the transfer at Kennedy and the extra time it takes — only to ride the darn thing a few minutes and then transfer again to a bus at the Scarborough Town Centre.

    A subway to STC is not about promoting development along the line – everyone knows this is a pipe dream. It is not about a line that will have stops in “priority neighbourhoods” — people would prefer it has just 1 stop – STC. It is really about getting people as fast as possible to STC so they can get their (hopefully) final bus home. That is what this is about – and this is a reasonable request.

    Let’s get real here and then maybe our politicians won’t look so ridiculous — right now they are pitching something for stated reasons that make no sense.

  3. RT, you know that the plans that we’ve seen put the “STC” subway station out on McCowan somewhere? I don’t think there has been any discussion on where to put the bus terminal in that case. Maybe there will be a nice long walkway.

  4. “people would prefer it has just 1 stop – STC… so they can get their (hopefully) final bus home.”
    As you mentioned most aren’t heading to STC in particular but transferring. If avoiding a transfer at Kennedy is important so is avoiding one at STC. The SRT was originally proposed to go to Malvern Centre but RT technology turned out almost as expensive as subways, so expansion halted. The LRT route not only can be expanded to give people a one-seat ride but its affordability offers riders a network to travel rapidly in many directions. Interestingly the current subway route stops 500 metres east of STC.
    Hate Kennedy transfer – a significant part of the LRT price tag goes to improving the awful transfer for both Scarborough & Eglinton passengers.
    – Scarborough residents are mad, angry and fed up with the RT.. line that never kept up with the times.
    The city ripped up the first leg of an LRT network after politicians promised a “world class” “technology of the future” rather than “second class” streetcars. Transit riders continue to serve as a convenient political football for car owning pols.

  5. @RT Which is all the more reason why it’s dumb to waste all that money on a short subway line.

    Spend the extra money on expanding rapid transit in Scarborough, so not everyone has to take all those horrid buses. Spending an extra billion just so you don’t have to “transfer” is selfish.

  6. The transfer at Kennedy needs to go. It can either be done by extending the subway or simply connecting the SRT to the ECLRT and allowing the ECLRT to handle the additional ridership.
    The subway option is by far the more expensive and it probably will wind up dying after these by-elections are finished. I would guess this is what the Province, and a majority of Councillors actually want. It shows the voters that they tried to get a subway for Scarborough, but each will blame others for why it did not get done.

  7. That $billion could have built an east Eglinton to Morningside & UTSC LRT extension. Along with the Sheppard and Scarborough-Malvern LRTs, the system would look more like a network…

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