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‘Transit City’ still on track, despite federal budget snub

Alexandra Kazia’s report for Observer Radio News.

The Chair of Metrolinx and the president of Transport 2000 say that current plans to turn Toronto into a ‘transit city’ could be derailed by a lack of federal infrastructure money.

Metrolinx’s “Big Move” is the largest infrastructure initiative in the country, proposing plans that amount to approximately $50 billion over the next 25 years. Plans call for the building of over 1,200 kilometres of rapid transit.

The issue of possible underfunding is not halting projects within the Greater Toronto Area, but is causing some fear for what may transpire down the road. Metrolinx Chair Rob MacIsaac said that the provincial government will keep projects afloat for now but in the future federal funding is crucial.

“We are able to proceed with projects under the ‘Big Move’ because of the historic provincial commitment to funding transit infrastructure in the region,” MacIsaac said. “But as times goes on the absence of federal funding will become more pronounced and we will not be able to build all of the ‘Big Move’ unless the federal government comes to the table.”

David Jeanes, President of Transport2000, a non-profit organization that researches and promotes environmentally-sound solutions for transportation, agrees with MacIsaac regarding potential funding problems in the future.

“That (concern) is right because once the two years from this round of funding is gone there is no guarantee that the federal government will make funds available for longer range projects,” Jeanes said.

The recently released budget gave a lot of money to infrastructure but with a large focus on road building and less attention paid towards forms of public transportation. The strong emphasis on things such as highways and roads is likely because projects like this are “shovel ready” for cities and require much less environmental assessment.

“Most of the transit projects require a fair bit of time on environmental assessment before you can actually start construction. So from our (Transport2000’s) point of view a two-year time line really isn’t good for most transit projects,” Jeanes said.

That is part of the problem facing Metrolinx’s “Big Move.” The project supported by the provincial government’s Move Ontario 2020, contains plans that cannot be brought forward in merely two years.

“From Metrolinx’s perspective, there wasn’t a lot of potentials that we could see for large expansion related infrastructure projects because of the criteria applied to the funds that were put in the budget,” MacIsaac said. “So the kinds of projects that we’re working in take many years to build and require a lot of preparation. Those kinds of projects are not capable of being completed by 2010.”

A lack of funding will not just affect large scale plans such as the “Big Move” but will also affect the progress and operating of the TTC.

TTC Chair Adam said predictability is the biggest challenge when it comes to federal and provincial funding:

He told The Observer that what is needed in Toronto is an Obama-style stimulus package, the equivalent of which would be 10 times that of what Canada has now put forward.

“It’s not some wacky idea or some wacky proposal by the city,” Giambrone said, “this is in line with what the Obama program has.”