‘It is scandalous’: $224M spent on transit projects, but several now in limbo, report reveals

Around $224 million has been spent so far on multiple Toronto transit projects, and city staff are warning any changes in direction could lead to added costs or delays — a concern that’s growing as the province aims to rejig projects that are already in motion.

That new spending figure is just one key piece of a sweeping transit expansion report from city manager Chris Murray, which also suggests several projects may now be in limbo, including two Scarborough transit lines and Mayor John Tory’s signature SmartTrack plan.

Both the Scarborough subway extension and SmartTrack stations are among the projects ready to enter the construction phase by the end of 2020, thanks to the investments made to date, according to the report released on Wednesday for Tory’s executive committee meeting next week and for city council April 16.

“Hundreds of millions of tax dollars have already been wasted,” Ward 12 Coun. Josh Matlow told CBC Toronto on Wednesday.

“It is a fiasco. It is scandalous,” said Matlow, who has long been an outspoken critic of the plan to replace the aging Scarborough RT with a subway extension rather than an LRT line.

His comments follow recent revelations regarding the transit priorities of Premier Doug Ford and the provincial government, which aims to takeover Toronto’s subway system and both prioritize and rework multiple long-awaited projects.

In a morning news conference at Bloor-Yonge subway station following the public release of Murray’s new report, Tory said the city is now at a crossroads.

“The crossroads is whether we keep driving forward, or we hit the brakes and reverse direction again — or at least risk that,” he continued.

Tory’s SmartTrack commuter rail plan is just one area of uncertainty in Murray’s new report, despite six stations in the works at Finch-Kennedy, Lawrence-Kennedy, Gerrard-Carlaw, East Harbour, King-Liberty and St. Clair-Old Weston.

While the city has requested a commitment from the province, it has “not yet responded,” the report says.

Murray later told reporters that so far, talks have involved provincial officials looking to the “private market” to see if there’s an interest in developing the stations, which will cost $1.5 billion, according to the latest estimate.

Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek, during a media scrum on Wednesday, also confirmed SmartTrack is part of the discussions, but in terms of station creation, “all those details are being worked out” in the terms of reference tied to the province’s so-called subway “upload.”

1-stop Scarborough subway likely ‘dead,’ Matlow says

Last month, several letters from the provincial team involved in the upload outlined multiple proposed changes, including expanding the city’s one-stop Scarborough subway extension to three stops.

In his report, Murray says the city should move forward on the current project only if there is “written support” and confirmation of previous funding commitments from the province by a deadline of May 15.

That message comes as the line is ready to proceed to the construction phase, with a contract expected to be awarded in September 2020, the report notes. It’s a timeline that’s deemed “critical” as the Scarborough RT urgently needs to be replaced, but one that’s in jeopardy given the province’s stance.

The latest numbers in the documents also reveal the costs have ballooned to nearly $3.9 billion, with staff recommending the city take on an extra $327 million in debt to make the project happen.

Changing transit plans now, Murray stresses in the report, could have an impact on the bottom line and create the potential for delays.

“The risks are not confined to financial consequences,” he continued, “but also relate to reputational risks in public confidence in government.”

Matlow, meanwhile, believes the city’s current plan was “always more expensive” than what the public was told. He also questioned the feasibility of shifting to the three-stop option.

“It is clear that the one-stop Scarborough subway not only is delayed, it’s most likely dead,” he added.

Uncertainty around Eglinton East

In that area of the city, the future of the Eglinton East LRT project is also uncertain.

The line would stretch 15 kilometres from Kennedy Station to Malvern with up to 21 stops — and is now expected to cost anywhere from $1.4 billion to $2 billion or more.

Metrolinx is set to own it as an extension of the Eglinton Crosstown, but the city still needs to request the provincial agency to move it to the procurement and construction phase and secure full funding for the project.

City staff also left it off the short list of projects recommended for the remainder of a bucket of federal funding, while the province in its recent letters didn’t list it as one of its top priorities — a pair of developments prompting outrage from Scarborough transit advocates.

“Premier Ford’s subway takeover and today’s report puts the Eglinton East LRT to Malvern and affordable public transit at risk,” Hana Syed, a vice president of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union, said in a statement provided by advocacy group TTCRiders.

This all comes three years after Tory said reducing the Scarborough subway extension to the current one-stop plan would be enough to fund the LRT extension through combined dollars from the province, federal government, and the city.

A decision on the line will be part of a forthcoming transit announcement from the province, Yurek said.

Matlow said the “biggest shame” surrounding Scarborough transit planning is a much earlier LRT plan, cancelled in 2010 by then mayor Rob Ford — the premier’s late brother — was already further along than any of the current incarnations.

“If we had moved forward with the honest plan — the LRT plan — that was funded many years ago, that transit would not only be built, but operating this year,” Matlow said.

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