Eglinton West RT debate shows subway boosters learned nothing from epic Scarborough failure


Big figure: $ 1.8 billion, the extra money the provincial government plans to spend to put the West Eglinton LRT underground, despite projections showing that keeping the line on the surface would serve more riders and would be easier to build. It’s a repeat of the same mistake made with the Scarborough metro, which has been repeatedly pushed back.

Mayor John Tory acknowledged the inevitable: the rickety old Scarborough RT won’t be able to hold out until the replacement Scarborough subway opens until 2029 or 2030. For a while – probably years, given typical delays. of transit projects get stuck on buses.

Call it what you want: a fiasco. A debacle. A failure. Those who defended a Scarborough subway royally screwed it up. The metro was touted as an alternative to a previously approved Scarborough LRT plan that could be built without shutting down the RT, justifying the higher cost and longer lead times.

But now costs have increased dramatically, deadlines have been pushed back, and one of the main supposed benefits of the metro plan – allowing Scarborough transit riders to continue using the RT while the metro is being built – does not happen. will not produce.

And look, governments make mistakes. I try to be cool about it. I won’t even go back to the long list of people responsible for this, although it impressively includes people from our three largest provincial political parties, the last two mayors of Toronto, and a motley team of current and former Toronto councilors.

But my thrill has its limits. The part that I find it hard to let go is that governments are supposed to learn from their mistakes. But it’s not clear that the Subway Boosters learned anything from their epic failure in Scarborough.

A clear lesson from this subway snafu, for example, is not to overbuild. Of course, in a perfect world where the money is endless and construction magically finished, all of Toronto’s transit projects would be dug deep underground. But the past two decades of transit planning and policy clearly tell the story that insisting on underground construction dramatically increases your costs and delays.

Keeping transit above the ground whenever possible – which usually means going for the light rail – helps put transit faster and costs less.

But that clear lesson was again sidelined with the planning of the LRT Eglinton West. According to a Metrolinx business case, keeping the line above ground along its route from Weston Road to Renforth Drive would generate more passengers and get more people out of their cars. It was also projected to cost $ 2.9 billion, compared to $ 4.7 billion for the mostly underground option. And – this is the key – has been identified as the “best option to minimize construction progress delays and the risk of cost overruns”.

Above ground wins, right? Clear victory.

But no. The provincial government likes the underground option. The same goes for Mayor John Tory and 10 other Toronto council members, who rejected a Council motion. Gord Perks in September who allegedly called on the provincial government to keep the dividing line.

It appears to be the same story with transit on Sheppard Avenue, where council recently approved the province’s preferred metro option, even though there is a really good LRT map on a shelf. .

Oddly, the only major project in Toronto where politicians are embracing surface construction is where it makes the least sense, with the decision to run the Ontario Line surface through the denser, more urban surroundings of Leslieville.

The future of excessive transit planning is clear: massive delays, massive cost overruns, and the high possibility of canceled projects. With the Eglinton West LRT and the Scarborough Metro, those most affected will be riders in northern corners of the city who have demonstrated throughout this pandemic that they need public transportation and deserve improvements. .

It would be nice to offer some hope for the long-term future of Toronto’s transit to the frontline workers who brave TTC vehicles these days, but hope is hard to find. .

A few years ago, a colleague and I were watching a debate on public transit at City Hall. “Wow they keep finding new ways to screw it up,” the colleague said, after a vote that once again changed plans.

But he was too charitable.

The problem with planning for transit in Toronto isn’t that officials keep finding new ways to fail. Instead, they’re stuck on the same old mistakes, repeating the same failures over and over again.

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