The TTC has suspended work on the city’s most pressing transit priority except where it can also be used for the provincial government’s new plans, agency staff told council Tuesday.
During a debate over ongoing talks with the Ontario Progressive Conservatives about its move to take ownership of Toronto’s subway network, Gary Downie, the TTC’s acting chief transit expansion officer, said the agency is no longer advancing planning work on the relief line — unless that work can be repurposed for the Ontario Line, Premier Doug Ford’s proposed replacement for the subway project.
Council has not endorsed the Ontario Line, and the long-planned relief subway, which is seen as critical to diverting passengers away from the TTC’s overcrowded Line 1, is still officially part of the city’s plans.
City staff are in the process of assessing the province’s proposal and are expected to report back later this year.
However, Downie said the TTC decided to pause some relief line work out of concerns any planning that doesn’t fit the province’s intentions will go to waste. Earlier this month, the Ford government passed legislation that allows the province to take control of new Toronto transit projects.
“We’ve actually scaled back the work we’re actually doing at this point in time to ensure we’re not wasting money,” Downie said.
“That’s work that will not be wasted going forward, so information that can be used on both the relief line and the Ontario Line.”
Ford announced the Ontario Line on April 10, describing it as a the “crown jewel” of his government’s proposed $28.5-billion transit build out in the GTA. Like the relief line, the Ontario Line would take pressure off Line 1 but would be roughly twice as long, running between Ontario Place and the Ontario Science Centre.
The province estimates the Ontario Line would cost $10.9 billion and says it can be built by 2027, two years sooner than the earliest projected opening date for the relief line, which would cost at least $7.2 billion.
The Ontario Line would follow a similar path as the relief line for the central part of its route, and some of its stations would be in roughly the same locations.
Downie said the TTC is carrying on with work such as geotechnical studies of soil conditions at those locations.
“That’s continuing but only in the same areas … where the Ontario Line may go,” Downie said.
He confirmed to the Star that the TTC has issued letters to some contractors directing them to suspend their work on the relief line. He stressed the work hadn’t been terminated, merely paused, while the city and TTC study the province’s plans.
Planning for the Ontario Line is much less advanced than the relief line. The relief line is at a 15-per-cent design stage, while Downie said the Ontario Line is at about 2 per cent. The city has pegged its “sunk costs” for relief line work at about $15.4 million as of February.
The province has said it can complete the Ontario Line faster than a conventional subway in part because it would use smaller, lighter trains that could run on elevated rails instead of in tunnels in some sections.
But provincial officials haven’t disclosed to the city details of their proposal, including firm budget and schedule projections or the type of train technology the line would employ.
“We have asked them for that information and they have not provided it,” Scott Haskill, TTC manager of project development, told council.
He said he couldn’t say whether the province hasn’t finalized those details or merely wasn’t sharing them with the city.
Haskill said that from information provincial officials have provided, his understanding was the Ontario Line trains would be about three-quarters the size of TTC subways. He said the province initially considered 40 potential configurations for the route, but had narrowed that down to about four.
Citing the lack of detail from the province, Councillor Mike Colle (Ward 8, Eglinton-Lawrence) took to derisively referring to the Ontario Line as the “mystery line.”
With much work on the relief line paused and the province providing little evidence to back up its assertions about the Ontario Line, Colle moved a motion asking for city staff to come up with alternative strategies to cope with crowding on Line 1 in the event neither project gets built.
“There’s going to be no relief in the next 10 years, while they keep playing games with transportation in Toronto,” he said.
His motion passed 25 to 1.
Andrew Buttigieg, a spokesperson for Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek, told the Star in an email the government is working to complete “a refined and detailed business case” for the Ontario Line by the end of the month, and “final dates and schedules will be informed by the ongoing planning, design and other work.”
Still, he said the province would “deliver the Ontario Line by 2027.”
He wouldn’t say which specific route options the province is considering or whether it would reimburse the city for work the TTC was doing on the project.
“The city’s previous planning on the relief line is being utilized and we’re working with Infrastructure Ontario to look at new, innovative ways to get transit built faster, and at less cost,” he added.
Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr