Approving the functional design of the first phase of the new rapid transit network is an important step, but the city is still far from being on the hook for the $2.1-billion plan.

“There’s still a long way to go,” deputy city manager for infrastructure services Nancy Schepers told councillors before they voted on the plan yesterday. “Today is about approving the functional design to get to the next step … you are setting the stage to move forward with the next set of decisions.”

That would be a six-month environmental assessment on the 3.2-kilometre downtown tunnel, which is expected to begin in February.

Four councillors voted against the project. Capital Ward Coun. Clive Doucet said the high cost of the tunnel would starve the rest of the system for years to come. He said the city should be looking for a surface rail option through downtown.

However, Mayor Larry O’Brien insisted this is the best long-term decision for the city. O’Brien said he is certain the plan would survive if rapid transit becomes an election issue.

“When you know you’re on the right track, it can face the challenges of an election,” said O’Brien.