Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

SmartTrack, the Gardiner or subways? John Tory needs to drop one

By: Matt Elliott Metro, Metro Published on Mon Jun 01 2015

This week is a big one for mayor John Tory. He’s officially made it through his first six months in office.

And he did it without becoming ensnared in scandal or embroiled in a police investigation. For clearing that low bar, I’ll salute him.

Still, it’s not been all smooth sailing for Tory. There’s a worrisome pattern that has started to emerge — a pattern that could define this mayor’s legacy.

In short, Tory is in support of spending a lot of money on things Toronto doesn’t necessarily need.

Take the Scarborough Subway. It’s always been a project of dubious value, costing far more than the previously-approved Scarborough LRT which would have been fully funded by the provincial government.

Tory supported the subway during last year’s election, reasoning that it didn’t make sense to yet again reverse course on a transit project.

But now that position is looking extra costly. Last week, a report circulated detailing new route options for the subway project. Consideration of these options has been necessitated by Tory’s own SmartTrack surface rail plan, which also runs through Scarborough.

These alternative routes could push the subway budget beyond the original $3.56 billion — maybe by another $600 million.

The bills are piling up.

SmartTrack itself could also be a major budget headache for Tory. He’s committed to delivering the $8-billion project within seven years, but funds from the other levels of government haven’t really materialized, leaving Tory on the hook.

The total cost could likely be reduced if Tory were to modify his SmartTrack plan, removing the pricey western portion that would run underground on Eglinton Avenue West. But so far he’s been

reluctant to do that.

And then there’s the Gardiner Expressway. Tory’s 2015 city budget injected $443 million into the city’s 10-year plan to rehabilitate the expressway west of Jarvis Street. Since then, Tory has also come out in favour of maintaining the eastern elevated connection between Jarvis and the Don Valley Parkway.

That position will require him to find another half-billion in life-cycle costs, compared to the cost of replacing this stretch with a simple boulevard.

With the Scarborough subway, the western leg of SmartTrack and the eastern Gardiner, Tory is committed to some big-money projects in a city that doesn’t really have big money to spend. Meanwhile, things like transit accessibility and affordable housing repairs remain overlooked.

But there’s still time to make things right. Tory should stand on principle and drop his support for at least one of these projects — a move that would bring his plans more in line with what planners and engineers say the city actually needs.

Do that, and Tory may yet leave a legacy as a city builder. As it is, he’s more likely to be remembered as a builder of debt.

Matt Elliott lives and writes in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @GraphicMatt

This post was originally published at on 2015-06-01T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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