Friday, June 19, 2009

Deadline looms for funding Toronto streetcar contract

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Toronto’s C$1.2 billion (US$1.1 billion) streetcar contract lacks C$400 million (US$353 million) in funding, and faces a June 27 deadline, as the city urges the federal government to allow stimulus money to be applied to the purchase. But Ottawa officials so far insist they cannot comply with such a request.

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The move could jeopardize the planned order, won by domestic supplier Bombardier Transportation, for the largest streetcar order in North American history, placed by the Toronto Transit Commission. The city and Ontario province each has committed to supply one-third of the overall funding required.

Federal Infrastructure Minister John Baird has suggested that Toronto could indirectly tap the stimulus fund by accelerating construction projects that can be completed in two years and usingany savings to pay the federal share of the streetcar contract.

But Baird said the city’s need to replace 204 aging streetcars does not qualify for the federal government’s Infrastructure Stimulus Fund. “It's a fantastic project,” he said. “It's just not eligible for this program. And [that's] not just a technicality.”

Beyond the impact on replacing the existing fleet, any voided deal would jeopardize plans to purchase up to 400 additional streetcars for the “Transit City” plan designed to expand streetcar reach within Canada’s largest city and also to the city's nearby suburbs.