Instead of waiting until next year to implement a GTA-wide transit plan, the government of Premier Dalton McGuinty surprised almost everyone last Friday by simply taking existing local transit proposals and promising to fund them.
The Liberal regime also announced its intention to start projects that few hoped to see built for decades, and pledged to have them 95 per cent completed over 12 years. It’s a major change in attitude.
GO Transit would see new tracks and stations and even entire lines — plus electrification of the Lakeshore route from Durham Region to Hamilton. Another surprise of the huge “MoveOntario 2020” scheme is to lengthen the Yonge subway line north to Highway 7 in York Region. Unlike the risky expansion of the Spadina line to Vaughan, extending Yonge is a safe bet to win many riders.
Four months from a provincial election, the Grits promised $11.5 billion for this grand plan. Ottawa is being asked to add another $6 billion — at least. By proposing a wider network of improved or new GO service, plus light rail and rapid bus routes right across the GTA and Hamilton, McGuinty has dramatically upped the electoral stakes. Traffic congestion in the Toronto area has rarely been such a high-profile issue for voters. Do the provincial Conservatives and NDP dare promise anything less, or will they try to outdo the Liberals’ gridlock gambit?
McGuinty tells In Transit, “We put a lot of time in this. We’ve pulled together the plans that have been on the table — brought forward by various municipalities. Now we’re turning it over to the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority, and saying, ‘Folks, you’re the people who are going to have to give us your very best advice. Are these plans that have been put forward now — are they the right plans? And secondly, in which order do we proceed with implementing those, and how do we address issues like bang for the buck in terms of ridership, and improvements in the free flow of traffic?’”
One of the facets of this plan that the NDP and Tories are certain to examine will be the extent of private sector involvement. According to the premier, “There will be public ownership, and public control, and public accountability. But in order for us to move aggressively, we will be using private sector partners — where that makes sense to do so.”
He continues, “They will be required to build it on time and on budget. If there are cost overruns, it’s their responsibility. If there are delays associated with completion of construction, there will be a financial penalty that they will pay.”