Thursday, February 09, 2012

Toronto mayor, council spar over rail expansion

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In a dramatic move, the Toronto City Council on Wednesday voted 26-17 in favor of maintaining (or reinstating) an earlier plan for extensive surface rail transit expansion in Canada’s largest city, going against the design of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who favors more subway construction and has declared an end to a supposed “war on cars.” Adding to the drama, Mayor Ford has dismissed the Council’s vote as an irritant not worth consideration.

“Technically speaking, that whole meeting was irrelevant,” said the mayor, dismissing the efforts of Toronto Transit Commission Chair (and City Councillor) Karen Stintz to reinvigorate the light rail transit plan, formerly known as “Transit City.”

Ford continues to urge Ontario province to focus on subway construction. F:The premier, I’m very confident, is going to continue building subways,” Ford told reporters following the full-day special council session. At stake is C$8.4 billion in provincial transit funding.

Stintz disagreed with the assessment, saying she had no doubt that provincial officials will consider council “supreme.” “They asked council to make a decision, and I think the decision tonight was decisive,” she said.

The City Council approved a return to the light rail transit vision approved by the city, the TTC, and the province in 2009, under former mayor David Miller. It includes street-level light rail on Finch Ave. W., and on Eglinton east of Laird Dr. Eglinton would still run underground from about Black Creek Dr. to Laird. In a move to placate Mayor Ford, a decision on whether rapid transit (subway) or LRT should be chosen for Sheppard East was referred to an expert panel to report back by March 31. “We do think, as a council, it was important that we support the mayor in that commitment and we allow further time and further options to find funding for Sheppard,” said Stintz, until recently considered an ally of Ford’s transit preference.

A statement by Ontario Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation Bob Chiarelli confirmed that Metrolinx, the regional transit agency serving the Greater Toronto Area, will consider the decision’s impacts on current transit planning and report back as quickly as possible. “I have always respected the will of council, as a whole, to come to a position regarding public transit priorities,” he said.