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Metrolinx threatens to suspend LRT work unless councillors reaffirm support

Bruce McCuaig is president and CEO of Metrolinx.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Metrolinx has issued an ultimatum to Toronto City Council, threatening to suspend work on the $1.8-billion Scarborough Light Rail Transit line unless councillors reaffirm their support for the project.

Bruce McCuaig, Metrolinx's president and chief executive officer, penned a letter to Toronto city manager Joe Pennachetti on Friday, setting the stage for another council debate on transit. In the letter, Mr. McCuaig said council's recent resolution supporting an alternative plan, the extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway, contradicted the master agreement signed by the parties last year.

Mr. McCuaig said the May resolution created uncertainty and he called on council to reaffirm its support for the Scarborough LRT by Aug. 2. Council's only meeting before that date is scheduled to run July 16 and 17. If it doesn't reaffirm its support Mr. McCuaig said Metrolinx, the regional transportation agency operated by the province, will have no choice but to halt work on the LRT.

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"We're looking for clarity from the city," he said in an interview.

Mr. McCuaig said Metrolinx is engaged in two active procurements and cannot attract quality bidders if there is uncertainty about council's support.

He also said the Toronto Transit Commission has underestimated the size of the funding gap if a subway is built instead of an LRT. Mr. McCuaig said the actual gap would be in excess of $925-million, not the $500-million that's been cited.

A group of city councillors, including TTC chair Karen Stintz, revived plans for the Scarborough subway in late April as part of talks on new fees and taxes for building transit.

Ms. Stintz, in an interview Friday, said she is asking for a meeting with Transportation Minister Glen Murray next week to clarify what is needed from council. She said she also plans to take issue with the costs cited by Metrolinx.

"I think this is the right subway for Scarborough," she said. "I am glad the minister is giving us a final opportunity to consider whether we wish to pursue this."

Mr. Murray, in an interview, said he didn't believe the Metrolinx letter came out of the blue and there had been attempts to resolve the issue. He added he would be happy to meet with Ms. Stintz.

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The minister said it's very difficult to proceed with a project when there's contradiction from council. "I think there's a great need to get that kind of clarity and I think Metrolinx has correctly identified the urgency," he said.

Councillor Josh Matlow said he will move a motion at the July meeting calling on council to reaffirm its support for the master agreement. He expressed frustration with some of his fellow councillors, who he said were "wilfully blind" to this eventuality.

He said if council doesn't reaffirm its commitment, it will have squandered a tremendous opportunity to provide rapid transit to Scarborough.

With a report from Elizabeth Church

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