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City councillors seek own changes to transit plan

A TTC bus battles traffic on Eglinton Avenue.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Facing a council insurrection, Mayor Rob Ford isn't budging from his plan to bury the entire Eglinton Crosstown line underground.

And he'll only dig in his heels more when he finds out some left-leaning councillors are planning to resurrect plans for a light-rail line along Finch Avenue West.

In a Facebook message posted Thursday afternoon, Mr. Ford said his underground plan remains "doable" despite a proposal from Toronto Transit Commission chair Karen Stintz and other councillors that would place the LRT above ground from east of the Don Valley Parkway to Kennedy Road.

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By avoiding tunnelling costs on the Scarborough end, the plan would cut the total Crosstown cost by about $1.5-billion.

Ms. Stintz's faction wants to split that windfall between extending the mayor's key transit project – the Sheppard subway – and establishing a rapid bus lane along Finch Avenue West.

"For almost 100 years, Toronto's transit system has been based on a backbone of subways," the mayor's post says. "It's time to get back on track."

The statement (an exaggeration as the first subway line was built in 1954) is an indirect shot at Ms. Stintz's plan, which has gained support from a wide swath of councillors.

The mayor goes on to argue that moving the line above ground would increase travel times and mark a return to the Transit City plan of former mayor David Miller. In a statistic his staff quotes often, the mayor said travel time between Laird Avenue and Kennedy stations would be 14 minutes for underground rail and 24 minutes for surface rail.

"More people will use transit when it's faster. It can only be faster if it's not on the surface."

Metrolinx chair Robert Prichard said earlier this week a proposal to bring the line above ground would need the backing of council, the mayor and the TTC. But with council setting up to defy the mayor, no such consensus seems imminent.

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"This has nothing to do with the mayor," said Maria Augimeri, a TTC commissioner whose ward includes Finch Avenue. "He'll be a bystander on this. Council is supreme. This mayor was not elected solely on a subway platform. I don't believe he can corral the number of councillors required to defeat this plan."

Ms. Augimeri hopes to use her sway with about 16 members of council's left wing to revive hopes for an LRT along Finch rather than the rapid bus route being proposed. She has already asked TTC staff for a report on the feasibility of electrifying a lane, and says the Stintz plan may not get her vote unless it includes allowances for an LRT. "I don't want BRT [bus rapid transit]as a permanent consolation for the people of Finch," she said.

Scarborough Councillor Michelle Berardinetti, a member of the mayor's executive, wants assurances from Queen's Park that any savings from the Stintz plan would flow into other transit projects in Toronto, not provincial coffers.

She's also concerned that political flip-flopping on Eglinton could put a chill on a number of large developments planned for her ward.

"Frankly, we look like a bunch of amateurs down here who can't get their act together. That's what concerns me. It's not a good message to send."

Ms. Berardinetti, who is married to a Liberal MPP, said the uncertainty is also raising questions with provincial politicians who represent the area.

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"Obviously it looks like we're really disorganized from their perspective," she said. "It's a concern for them with so much money on the table. We really need to get our act together at city hall."

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About the Author
National reporter

Patrick previously worked in the Globe's Winnipeg bureau, covering the Prairies and Nunavut, and at Toronto City Hall. He is a National Magazine Award recipient and author of the book Mountie In Mukluks. More

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