City council votes to forge ahead with Scarborough subway

After a fiery daylong debate, city council voted to take the next steps in the Scarborough subway project and not take a second look at a light rail alternative.

Many councillors alarmed by $3.35B price tag for 1-stop extension to Bloor-Danforth subway

The Scarborough subway extension would mean commuters wouldn't have to transfer to an LRT at Kennedy Station, but councillors question the cost. (John Rieti/CBC)

After a fiery daylong debate, city council voted to take the next steps in the Scarborough subway extension project and not take a second look at a light rail alternative.

Council voted 26-18 to align the subway with McCowan road and take the next steps in designing the extension. It also voted 32-12 in favour of an enhanced bus terminal at the Scarborough Town Centre, which will become the final stop on the Bloor-Danforth line.

Mayor John Tory told council the subway will make Scarborough a more vibrant area.

"We've got to get on with this," Tory told council in his final remarks.

Coun. Josh Matlow put forward a motion asking city staff to develop business cases for both the subway and the seven-stop light rail plan that was originally planned for the area back in 2012.

That motion failed, 17-27.

Mayor John Tory is defending the subway plan, saying it will be a 'vital' link between Scarborough and the rest of Toronto. (John Rieti/CBC)

Before it did, Matlow blasted Tory for using the accounts of Scarborough residents who have told him the subway would save them 15 minutes on their commute as evidence to support the subway, instead of studies by professional transit experts.

"That's what we should use as an argument? Are you listening to yourself, seriously?"

Tory defended himself, saying the experiences of real people aren't "fake news." He also criticized council for not discussing important issues, like the redesigned Triton bus terminal, which is set to cost $182 million more than a previous at-grade version, which were actually on Tuesday's agenda.

Council also voted against a motion to study "roughing in" a Lawrence Avenue East station on the subway line.

Critics blast '100-year mistake'

Matlow said a staff report comparing the subway and LRT business plans would have provided "relative, basic" information about the decision councillors are about to make.

Coun. Gord Perks flatly called the project a "a bad plan."

Coun. Shelley Carroll said she fears the city is making a "100-year mistake."

Demonstrators from Scarborough Transit Action interrupt Coun. Glenn De Baeremaeker's news conference at city hall. (John Rieti/CBC)

But Scarborough councillors argued forcefully in favour of the plan, saying it will improve the lives of residents. Newly-elected Coun. Neethan Shan said transit remains a "real struggle" for many in his community and that those people want a subway connection, even if they have to take a bus to the Scarborough Town Centre.

Coun. Glenn De Baeremaeker said city has already compared the subway and LRT — the critics just didn't like the results.

"This project is a good project ... we need to move it forward," De Baeremaeker told reporters.

Moments later, two members of Scarborough Transit Action, an offshoot of the TTCRiders advocacy group, interrupted De Baeremaeker by yelling "No to the Scarborough subway!" and holding up posters that read "Stop the blank-cheque subway."

What about Eglinton East?

Coun. Paul Ainslie, the only Scarborough councillor to oppose the subway plan, introduced three motions supporting the 17-stop Eglinton East LRT, one of which was thrown out.

Ainslie's two other motions, linking updates about the Scarborough subway and the LRT and also requesting a report on the construction timetable and funding plan for the line, were approved.

"Let's do the work," Ainslie told council.

Ainslie says his residents are concerned that with the subway taking up nearly all of the money earmarked for Scarborough transit, the Eglinton East LRT is at risk of not being built.

Tory, speaking with reporters after the vote. said the city needs provincial money to build the line.

"I'm going to fight with every ounce of strength and determination I have … to get the money from Queen's Park," Tory said, adding he hopes other councillors will support his request.

Project has been studied at length, TTC Chair says

TTC Chair Josh Colle said council agrees on two key things: that the aging Scarborough RT needs to be replaced, and that Kennedy Station and the Scarborough Town Centre need to be connected.

However, he said the decision to run a subway between the stops is the right one.

"This has been the most studied, analyzed transit corridor in the history of the city," Colle said.

The subway is expected to cost some $3.35 billion. Currently, only five per cent of the subway has been designed.

The project will come back to council when 30 per cent of the design work is finished. 

City manager confirms city could still get money for LRT

Ahead of the meeting, Matlow sent a letter to City Manager Peter Wallace asking several questions about the Scarborough transit plans.

In response, Wallace confirmed the city could still get provincial funding for an LRT line. Wallace's letter also states that there hasn't been a detailed comparison of the two plans.

"A formal business case analysis to compare the Scarborough LRT to the [Scarborough Subway Extension] has never been directed by council," Wallace's reply states.

Matlow said that "debunks misinformation" shared by the pro-subway side, and means the city could move forward with the LRT if it chose to. Matlow says he believes both the seven-stop LRT and the Eglinton East LRT could be built for less than the one-stop subway.

Coun. Joe Cressy, meanwhile, confirmed with the TTC that had council not changed its transit plans, the LRT line could have been operating by 2019. The subway extension isn't set to open until 2026.

Murtaza Haider, an associate professor at Ryerson's Ted Rogers School of Management, also released a report this week that found riders will spend seven more minutes travelling to the subway than potential LRT stops. Haider spoke about his study at length in an interview with CBC Radio's Metro Morning, which you can hear in the clip above. 

Big changes coming to Scarborough Town Centre area

Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat said major changes are coming to the land around Scarborough Town Centre, and she envisions a more urban design with a grid system for streets and potentially a system like Toronto's PATH, as well.

Keesmaat said building the underground bus terminal on Triton Road is "inextricably linked" to the long-term vision for the area. 

Planners are currently working with land owners in the area — primarily Oxford Properties, which runs the shopping centre — and will present a master design to council in the future, she said.

Keesmaat said the revamp will also require "significant capital expenditures."


John Rieti

Senior producer

John started with CBC News in 2008 as a Peter Gzowski intern in Newfoundland, and holds a master of journalism degree from Toronto Metropolitan University. As a reporter, John has covered everything from the Blue Jays to Toronto city hall. He now leads a CBC Toronto digital team that has won multiple Radio Television Digital News Association awards for overall excellence in online reporting. You can reach him at