A modified version of the Eglinton light-rail line, a key part of Toronto's Transit City plan, is likely to be constructed despite Mayor Rob Ford's assertions that his administration would focus on construction of new subway lines.
Bruce McCuaig, CEO of the provincial transit authority Metrolinx, said the 33-kilometre Eglinton line is a major priority for the province and his agency is working with city officials to make it a reality.
"They've communicated back that they understand the importance of the Eglinton line. So we have ... confidence that we will be moving ahead with that particular project," he told CBC News in an interview.
McCuaig's comments come just over a month after Ford said unequivocally that "Transit City is over," referring to the plan to construct an integrated network of light-rail lines across Toronto.
Ford later said his office's most pressing transit priority is to construct a subway line from the Don Mills station eastward to Scarborough Town Centre.
But TTC Chair Karen Stintz told CBC News that the Eglinton LRT may survive because an 11-kilometre stretch is slated to be constructed underground, or "below grade."
"We see that the light-rail transit across Eglinton is below grade," she said. "And even though it's not quote, unquote a subway, it does meet with the mayor's vision that new transit built in Toronto be below surface."
'Not a matter of scrapping light rail'
The $4.6-billion Eglinton Crosstown LRT line, as it is currently envisioned, stretches from the Scarborough Town Centre in the east to Pearson International Airport westward. With the exception of a central 11-kilometre stretch between Keele Street and Laird Drive , the line will be built "at grade" — at street level.
The fate of those at-grade portions is unclear. Stintz wouldn't discuss specifics, but said the TTC is working with Metrolinx to revise the plans.
"We're reviewing the regional Metrolinx plan and seeing whether or not and how we could put more transit underground," said Stintz. "And it's not a matter of scrapping light rail per se, it's a matter of making sure that we make the most efficient use of our road space while building mass transit that's going to meet the needs of riders of today and into the future."
McCuaig also declined to provide details, but said Metrolinx has not ruled out at-grade LRT "where we can maintain the traffic lanes for other road users as well."
He said Metrolinx is being guided by the following principles when it comes to overhauling the plans: "We need to achieve both regional and local transportation objectives. There can be no cost increases to the province. We need to avoid losing some of the existing investment that we've already made in the projects to date. We need to deliver results as quickly as possible, and we need to minimize impacts on traffic."
Both Stintz and McCuaig said the revised plans should be ready by the end of this month ahead of the TTC's next meeting on Feb. 2.
The majority of the funding for Transit City comes from the province, which has pledged $8.15 billion.
Ford has said he would not ask for new transit funding; rather, he would try to persuade the Ontario government to divert $4 billion in Transit City money to finance his subway plan. But $1.3 billion has already been committed in Transit City-related contracts, and the province would have to pay penalties for breaking those contracts in the event the Transit City plan is abandoned.
The TTC has also spent $137 million on the project, and construction of the Sheppard Avenue East light-rail line has already begun.
Construction on the Eglinton LRT line has yet to begin, and it is currently expected to be fully ready by 2020.