Will traffic congestion wait until the province pares down its deficit? Ontario’s budget woes are serious but the Liberal government’s decision to cut transit expansion last week pretends that gridlock is no real threat to the GTA.
By cutting $4 billion of the promised $9.5-billion regional transit plan known as The Big Move, the province is delaying relief to many, many commuters who face longer trips, increased crowding and more erratic road conditions.
And, yet, the original figure was already too small. The Big Move was indeed a huge leap after decades of inadequate expansion — but it did not really come close to matching population growth in the GTA.
Despite the number of corridors in crying need of better transit, some of the projects that seem safe from cuts may not help that many travellers. The Spadina subway extension continues, although it won’t justify its high cost for decades. The airport rail link goes ahead, to bring us prestige but little capacity.
Routes that most transit riders already use — all those busy bus lines across Toronto — may slowly choke with auto congestion. The Transit City plan offered traffic-free travel through wide swaths of 416 on light rail trains but the network is now threatened, as are key transit lines in 905. The timetable of overdue repairs and replacements, such as for the worn-out Scarborough RT, is suddenly unclear — making improvements like new subway platform barriers seem like fantasy.
There are hard questions about how we will get around this region in coming years and yet we put off the difficult debate over how to actually pay for transport capacity. Tolls, parking charges, sales tax — what choice do we really have, besides doing nothing?
Ask your provincial and federal politicians if they foresee gridlock in the GTA, and whether current expansion plans can realistically prevent it.
Subway delays: Despite an apparent rise in signal, switch and smoke disruptions, the TTC reports there is no significant increase in overall train delays.
Correction - March 30, 2010, 7:16 p.m. EST: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the regional transit plan that is the subject of this column. It is called the The Big Move, not Let's Move, as Metro originally identified it.