Is Toronto's downtown relief line 'a' priority, or 'the' priority? Transport minister won't say

Jeff Yurek said it’s a guarantee the long-planned project won’t get sidelined when subway building and maintenance are uploaded to the province sometime next year.

Negotiations to upload subways to province to begin early next year, according to Jeff Yurek

A twitter user captured this shot of a crowded subway platform along Line 1 earlier this year. (Tariq Fancy/Twitter)

The downtown relief line is "a top priority" of the Ford government, Ontario's transportation minister said Thursday, adding it's a guarantee the long-planned project won't get sidelined when subway construction and maintenance are uploaded to the province sometime next year.

Jeff Yurek, who was appointed to the post in a cabinet shuffle earlier this month, said a relief line on the TTC is "a definite need" given the congestion during rush hour, particularly on Line 1, the Yonge-University-Spadina line.

"It's a top priority of this government to get the relief line built," he told CBC Radio's Metro Morning.

Asked to clarify whether it's "the" priority or "a" priority, Yurek answered only that he would have more to say "in the near future."

Toronto Mayor John Tory and former chief city planner and mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat, among others, have said the downtown relief line should be built before other subway projects.

In an email statement, Tory spokesperson Don Peat noted that TTC staff and council have said the relief line should be built before the Yonge line is extended farther north. 

"Mayor Tory has repeatedly indicated that it would be irresponsible to extend the Yonge subway before the relief line is built," Peat said.

"Toronto voters recently gave Mayor Tory a clear mandate to get Toronto's transit network plan built with the relief line at the top of the list."

Peat did not specifically address a question about what concerns Tory would bring forward during consultations with the province.

The relief line is the proposed TTC subway route that would include eight stations connecting Osgoode Station on Line 1 with Pape Station on Line 2.

Last month, Environment Minister Rod Phillips gave the relief line the green light following a successful environmental assessment of the project.

Current projections have the relief line completed by 2031.

'A win-win-win situation'

On Wednesday, Yurek told the Toronto Region Board of Trade's annual transportation summit that the province wants to take over subway operations and expand subway service into York, Durham and Peel regions.

Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek told Metro Morning Thursday that building the downtown relief line is "a top priority" for the Ontario government. (CBC)

Yurek reiterated that the planning, building and maintenance of subways would be uploaded to the province. But day-to-day operations of the TTC and the revenue it generates would remain with the city. 

The GTHA is growing, he said, and "if we can build a seamless regional transit system in the long term, we will be able to deliver people and goods across the region and get the economy going."

He said the province will be in a better position to finance major transit projects because the government can amortize costs over a longer period of time. Yurek also noted the TTC's backlog of maintenance projects that tallies in the billions of dollars.

Michael Lindsay, the province's special advisor on uploading transit, is expected to issue a report to cabinet within a month, and serious discussions with the city should begin early in the new year, Yurek said.

"This is going to be a consultative process with Mayor Tory and the council and the city with Metrolinx involved to ensure that it's a win-win situation," he said.

"In fact it's going to be a win-win-win situation because the region is going to benefit."

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