Federal government to spend $12B on Toronto, Hamilton transit

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The federal government said Tuesday it will spend $12 billion on transit projects in Toronto and Hamilton. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the money will go toward four Toronto transit projects already underway, as well as a light rail transit line set to run through Hamilton’s downtown core.

The Ontario government is currently working on four transit projects in Toronto that got a financial boost from the federal government Tuesday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The federal government will spend more than $12 billion on transit projects in Toronto and Hamilton. 

Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna said Tuesday that $10.4 billion in funding will go toward four “shovel ready” transit projects in Toronto — the Ontario Line, the Scarborough Rapid Transit replacement, the Eglinton Crosstown LRT and the Yonge-North subway extension. This funding will cover about 40 per cent of each project.

However, none of these transit lines will be completed until at least 2029, said Ontario’s Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney. 

The federal government will also help fund a light rail transit line in downtown Hamilton and buy zero-emission streetcars for the TTC, made at Thunder Bay’s Alstom automotive plant. More details about those projects will be announced in the near future.

Prime Minister Trudeau said the “historic” agreement will reduce traffic congestion and pollution and create tens of thousands of jobs, as part of Canada’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

“Rapid transit shortens commutes, which gives parents more time with their kids and ensures kids will inherit a cleaner future,” Trudeau said. “Public transit is at the heart of a strong recovery and a growing middle class.”

Emissions, housing conditions

According to McKenna, the funding is not without conditions. The province and cities will have to demonstrate how the investments will drive down emissions and require “substantive” environmental reviews, community benefit agreements and affordable housing along the lines.

McKenna said negotiations took six months and the plans were “not made easily.” 

“Public transit is at the heart of an inclusive recovery,” McKenna said. “We pushed hard for better outcomes for residents in local communities.” 

Mulroney said the federal funding is an “endorsement” of the province’s transit plan for the GTA, which requires funding from all three levels of government. In 2019, Ford committed $17 billion for the plan that includes the four subway projects.

According to Toronto Mayor John Tory, the transit investment will help the city return to its pre-pandemic rapid growth, though he acknowledged the “difficult path” to link all corners of the city. 

“This has been a long-time coming,” he said. 

An artist’s rendering from 2019 shows proposals for what Hamilton’s LRT line would look like. (City of Hamilton)

LRT delayed since 2015

Former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne had committed $1 billion to the Hamilton 14-kilometre LRT in 2015. It was cancelled four years later by Ford’s government, which claimed it was billions of dollars over budget.

Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger and private sector partner the Labourers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) both said the province’s figures were overblown.

Earlier this year, the province revived a smaller, nine-kilometre line and renewed its $1 billion commitment.

However, that funding was contingent on the federal government committing $1.5 billion. McKenna said on Tuesday she will provide specifics about funding for Hamilton’s LRT at a future announcement.

Toronto’s rocky history with transit

Meanwhile, transit projects in Toronto have their own rocky history.

The Scarborough RT line was originally supposed to be replaced with a light-rail line, which would have been up and running by now.

However, that project was scrapped by Ford’s brother, Rob Ford, when he was elected mayor of Toronto in 2010. Council then approved a more expensive underground extension to connect the northeast region to downtown.  

Commuters hop off a Scarborough Rapid Transit vehicle. The Scarborough RT replacement has gone through several revisions in the last decade and is now a three-stop extension expected to cost $6 billion. (Lauren Pelley/CBC News)

The Scarborough RT replacement has gone through several revisions in the last decade and is now a three-stop extension expected to cost $6 billion — a price that Metrolinx determined outweighs its benefits.

Recently, the TTC recommended shutting down the aging Scarborough RT line in 2023 and using buses until the project is completed in 2030.

Doug Ford championed the $10.9-billion, 15-stop Ontario Line following his election as premier. It is slated to run 16 kilometres from Ontario Place through downtown beneath King Street and then north to the Ontario Science Centre. 

Parts of the ambitious plan, with no target completion date, have faced opposition from Toronto city councillors and residents. A section of the line will run above ground, which residents say will add noise pollution and destroy trees and animal habitats. 

Construction for the Eglinton Crosstown LRT began in 2011 and has been repeatedly delayed, most recently to late 2022. The $5.2-billion project was supposed to open this fall. 

In the meantime, small businesses and residents have suffered. More than 100 businesses have closed on Eglinton Avenue because of the construction, CBC News previously reported.

Construction for the Eglinton Crosstown LRT began in 2011 and has been repeatedly delayed, most recently to late 2022. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

In March, Metrolinx scaled back plans for the Yonge-North subway extension from Finch Station to Richmond Hill from six to three stops in an effort to cut ballooning costs.

It is unclear if the demand for this service, and the Scarborough RT, will ever be high enough to justify the costs, said Ryerson University Prof. Murtaza Haider, research director at the Urban Analytics Institute.

Now with federal support, these transit projects will happen, Haider said. “The questions is, should it happen?”

He said with ridership at historic lows due to the pandemic, governments should focus on sustaining existing public transit until workplaces open again.

McKenna said these four projects, now backed by the federal government but approved by city councils, respect local decision making.

Mulroney and Tory said their objective is to minimize disruption and that they are looking at ways to address community concerns.

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