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Can’t we ditch SmartTrack West and extend the Eglinton LRT already?

John Tory's plan for SmartTrack West could cost up to $5 billion, making it one of Toronto's most expensive transit projects.
John Tory's plan for SmartTrack West could cost up to $5 billion, making it one of Toronto's most expensive transit projects.

Here’s the short version of what should happen to the western part of Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack transit plan: it should be banished.

All documents and maps referencing it should be set on fire and burned to ashes. Those ashes should then be collected and stuffed into a sack. That sack should be attached to a rocket. That rocket should be sent to the moon.

And then, just to be safe, we should blow up the moon.

Seriously, I’m so tired of hearing about this thing. In the last week, we’ve learned that this section of tunnelled heavy rail that is supposed to run along Eglinton West — connecting SmartTrack from Mount Dennis to something called the “Missisauga Corporate Centre” — will cost up to $5 billion. Or at least that’s what a draft version of a consultant’s report says, according to transportation report Oliver Moore at the Globe & Mail.

That price tag would make it one of the most expensive transit projects in Toronto’s history. All for a service that will run through an area that most assuredly lacks the density to support the capital and operating costs of underground transit.

But it’s far too early to judge anything, says Tory. The report detailing cost estimates for this part of SmartTrack isn’t finalized yet. In fact, he hasn’t even seen a draft. Sure, we learned his staff were briefed on it, but the mayor was not, for some reason. Maybe he hates spoilers.

But whatever the case, Tory’s message on SmartTrack West has been consistent: we all just need to be patient and wait for the final estimates and data to come in.

But as much as I’m a big fan of data, nothing about the process surrounding this part of Tory’s plan has been driven by data.

It’s been ad-libbed from the start. It’s a prime example of the kind of back-of-the-envelope transit planning Tory says he wants to do away with.

A real evidence-based process for transit needs to start with a workable hypothesis. There should be some sort of explanation as to why any given route is being proposed — a list of potential benefits over the status quo.

Once you have that, you can start gathering data and evidence to prove — or disprove — the need for the line. You can make adjustments and changes. It’s like, you know, science.

But the western part of SmartTrack never came with a hypothesis. It emerged fully-formed, without explanation, on a map designed to boost the fortunes of Tory’s election campaign. Requiring all new track, it’s entirely contrary to Tory’s message that SmartTrack can be built quickly and for not a lot of money.

And worst of all, it duplicates an earlier plan to extend to the Eglinton Crosstown LRT westward, toward Pearson Airport. That plan actually does have a solid rationale behind it — and hundreds of pages of data and reports. It’s significantly less expensive and far better suited to projected ridership in the area.

But instead of simply coming out and advocating for the sensible choice in this corridor – the LRT – Tory continues to drag his feet, keeping the SmartTrack West fantasy alive.

There’s no good reason for it. Eglinton West already has a transit plan. It’s not SmartTrack. It never was and won’t ever be. Please, please, please, kill it, and let us never speak of this again.

This post was originally published at on 2015-11-19T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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