City commits $1.5B for Mayor’s SmartTrack plan, but critics say question marks remain

In the latest win for Mayor John Tory, city council has agreed to contribute nearly $1.5 billion to fund his SmartTrack plan.

But the vote on Wednesday came after hours of discussion, including concerns shared by multiple councillors over the high price tag for just six stations — all of which will be operated by Metrolinx, a provincial agency, not the city.

“How can I have the confidence we’re not getting taken to the cleaners on this?” questioned Ward 4 Coun. John Campbell.

Campbell said he’s concerned about a roughly $200-million cost for each of the six stations, which include St. Clair-Old Weston, King-Liberty, East Harbour, Gerrard-Carlaw, Lawrence-Kennedy, and Finch Kennedy.

Those individual station costs make up the nearly $1.2 billion city council approved as a contribution to Metrolinx for base station infrastructure.

An additional $270 million in city-initiated station requirements also got the green light, with the city on the hook for nearly $880 million in total and another chunk coming from federal funding.

Ward 27 Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam questioned whether Toronto should be spending this much money to “pay for Metrolinx infrastructure.”

While it uses the SmartTrack moniker, the plan uses existing GO lines and builds upon Metrolinx’s Regional Express Rail program through proposed additional stations and integrated fares.

Wong-Tam suggested the province’s promise for a $3 fare for GO Transit and UP express trips within Toronto may not be set in stone, which could impact the provincially-operated project.

“There’s big question marks all around,” said Wong-Tam at Wednesday’s meeting.

But while questions remain, including the exact fare structure and how the summer provincial election will impact that arrangement, SmartTrack supporters say there’s plenty of time to work out the kinks.

Speaking at council, Tory also fired back at concerns about the city funding a provincial transportation system. “Other municipalities are not proposing to build stations that the province would not otherwise have built to suit their local needs,” he said.

Ward 21 Coun. Joe Mihevc, who voted in support of the project, called SmartTrack a “game changer” for Toronto.

“Are the stations the right ones? Is there a second wave of stations that need to follow? All those things, of course, need to be looked at,” Mihevc added.

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