Mayor says Ontario must step up if Toronto is to get downtown relief line

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Mayor says Ontario must step up if Toronto is to get downtown relief line

A downtown relief subway line for Toronto will be possible only if the Ontario government comes through with more funding, Mayor John Tory said on Monday.

At a news conference on a busy subway platform, Tory called on the province to match any money for transit expansion provided by the federal government, in the hopes that each can carry about 40 per cent of the project, leaving a 20 per cent share for the city to cover.

"The federal government, in its budget of last week, has pledged billions of dollars" for Ontario transit, Tory said.  

Now, "the future of transit expansion in Toronto rests squarely on the province of Ontario."

The relief line is still early in its planning stages, with no confirmed route, but a favourite design proposed over the summer has the underground train running south from Pape station, along Pape Avenue, and then turning west at Eastern Avenue, before connecting with Queen and Osgoode stations.

Its price tag is estimated at about $6.8 billion dollars, with at least a decade to go before the project could possibly become a reality, Tory said.

'Not realistic' for Toronto to carry cost

Tory argued that by rejecting Toronto's plan for tolls on two of its highways, the province "said no to allowing the city to control its own finances" — putting a greater onus on them to pony up for Toronto transit projects.   

"Without a provincial contribution, and denied the ability to raise our own revenue, it is not realistic to think Toronto can carry two-thirds of this large scale transformative project," he said.

"Multi-billion dollar projects of this kind were not meant to be financed by property taxes."

Tory pointed to a recent commitment from the B.C. government, which "pledged to contribute up to 40 per cent of the cost of projects that will receive funding from the 2017 federal budget," as an example for Ontario to follow.

Province says investments 'literally endless'

The Ontario government did contribute $150 million over the summer for planning the relief line, something Tory acknowledged, along with other contributions made by the province "in the past" to various projects, including the Eglinton Crosstown LRT line currently under construction.

Still, the city can't "sit back" because one project has been funded. "We must be building and planning continuously," he said.

Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca, however, told reporters that the provincial government has invested more in transit than "any government in Ontario history."

Citing projects such as the one-stop Scarborough subway extension and the UP Express, Del Duca said that the list of Toronto projects invested in by the province is "literally endless. And the mayor knows that."

He also argued that the province's move to double the provincial gas tax over the next four years will provide Toronto with more revenue than it would have made from the highway toll plan.

Two subway extensions square off

Another political football being kicked back and forth on Monday was the possible Richmond Hill subway extension, which would see the Yonge subway line expand north from Finch Avenue and up to Highway 7.

"The Yonge line can't go an inch closer to Richmond Hill until we have shovels in the ground digging out that much needed subway relief line," said Tory on Monday, arguing that the system is stretched too thin to accommodate more riders.

Del Duca, whose government put $55 million towards planning the Richmond Hill extension in June, wouldn't definitively say that the downtown relief line should come first.

"Both projects have merit. We're going to keep working with our municipal partners to make sure that at some point both get built," he said.