Toronto's plan to build six SmartTrack stations is moving ahead, but councillors spent the bulk of the debate considering tunneling a future LRT line in Etobicoke.

City council voted 36-6 to approve the locations and design of six SmartTrack stations, which are set to be built on the existing GO Transit corridors that cut through the city.

While this version of SmartTrack is far simpler than the 22-stop system Tory campaigned on during the last municipal election, he told reporters he still believes it will be a "huge step" for transit in the city.

Crucially, "it is moving forward," he said, noting SmartTrack will be built before many other future transit projects. Tuesday's approval clears the way for environmental assessments at the station sites.

Tory says government funding commitments are in place to build SmartTrack. According to the city's website, the new stations could be open by 2024.

"This is real," Tory said.

John Tory SmartTrack 1

Mayor John Tory says SmartTrack is real and will happen sooner than many other transit projects planned for this city. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Should Eglinton West LRT go underground? 

City council also voted 36-6 to spike Coun. Michael Ford's motion to bury the future Eglinton West LRT extension —which is different than the currently under-construction Crosstown light rail project — something staff have warned could cost billions.

"Our residents want underground transit," Ford said on the council floor.

He said he realizes tunneling comes with a price tag, but said other governments are at the table when it comes to funding and that council would regret not burying it if it went ahead with its current plans.

Both Ford and Deputy Mayor Stephen Holyday warned a street level LRT would snarl traffic.

Critics blasts 'pie in the sky' plan

But Coun. Josh Matlow accused Ford of teasing people with "pie in the sky fantasy ideas" that the city doesn't have the money for — especially when it's already trying to figure out how to pay for a number of pricey transit expansions.

"Enough is enough. Let's make evidence-based decisions. Let's use every dollar we have thoughtfully," he said.

Coun. Shelley Carroll and Coun. Joe Cressy moved motions aimed at further killing studies looking at tunneling the western LRT, but both failed.

Carroll said city staff have done enough work to know that the benefits aren't worth the costs.

Coun. Joe Mihevc went further, calling the tunnel idea "absolute lunacy." 

A working group will continue to look at grade separation and tunneling options on the route.

Matlow also criticized SmartTrack in general, in part because it includes a stop near the current Lawrence East Station that Metrolinx has put under review. 

Coun. Gord Perks introduced a motion asking for a review of how the city will fund the project, noting while councillors love drawing up transit lines, they often fail to fund them. That passed unanimously. 

Coun. Janet Davis also asked for updated ridership numbers to be provided, which also passed.

The six SmartTrack stations that won council's backing are:

  • St. Clair-Old Weston
  • King-Liberty
  • East Harbour
  • Gerrard-Carlaw
  • Lawrence-Kennedy
  • Finch Kennedy

SmartTrack will also intersect with two Metrolinx Regional Express Rail stations. Those are:

  • Spadina-Front​
  • Bloor-Lansdowne