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Budget boost for GTA transit



TTC and Mississauga buses share space at Islington station.

Mar. 22, 2006. 06:38 AM

The long-awaited Greater Toronto Transportation Authority � a key part of the plan to create a seamless transit system from Burlington to Oshawa � will be unveiled in tomorrow’s provincial budget, sources say.

Creating the GTTA allows Premier Dalton McGuinty to fulfill a key 2003 election campaign promise for “a region-wide approach to identifying and meeting GTA transit needs.”

Although it’s unclear how much clout the authority will have, its creation has the potential to address the region’s congestion woes.

For commuters, this could eventually mean faster and smarter decisions on new buses, streetcars and trains, express right-of-ways, and paying through a “smart card” to cross municipal boundaries.

Finance Minister Dwight Duncan is also expected tomorrow to announce funding for the extension of the Toronto Transit Commission’s Spadina subway line to York University and into Vaughan, the first subway to cross the 416-905 border, and funding for a York Region study to create bus-only lanes.

There should also be good news for motorists, with money earmarked toward the much-expected Highway 427 extension north of Highway 7 in Woodbridge.

The GTTA will set transit priorities and allocate funding, but it won’t have “sustainable streams of revenue,” which means it may not have much long-term political clout, two sources said. Its creation should help to find long-term solutions to traffic problems that cost the regional economy about $1.8 billion a year in lost productivity, wasted time and fuel, and other associated costs.

Its birth coincides with the $1.5 billion subway extension. That line is coming about as a result of an unexpected budget windfall � in the form of higher-than-anticipated corporate tax revenue for this fiscal year � that must be spent by the end of the fiscal year on March 31.

If the bonanza is not spent, by law it must go toward deficit reduction. But for political reasons, the Liberal government does not want to eliminate the deficit until its pre-election budget next year.

With many competing transit expansion projects on municipal wish lists, the GTTA would be the natural choice to advise the province on those things that should be addressed first. Among them:

  • Mississauga’s Transitway is a bus-only road along Highway 403 and Eastgate Parkway from Burnamthorpe Rd. to Eglinton Ave. Its major hub would be at the bus terminal at Square One Shopping Centre.

  • York Region has a $1.5 billion project in hand to build 100 kilometres of bus-only lanes, mostly along Yonge St. and Highway 7. Officials hope to begin this year with the engineering of the first stage, a $420 million project to build 22 kilometres of bus lanes on Yonge St. between Steeles and Bernard Aves., and on Highway 7 from Richmond Hill Centre to Markham Centre.

  • Brampton has been asking for federal and provincial funding for AcceleRide, a $230 million bus-priority project for Queen St. and Highway 10.

  • The TTC has many transit needs, including completing the Sheppard subway line to Scarborough Town Centre, replacing the Scarborough RT and creating more streetcar-only lanes throughout the city.

Creating a GTTA has been far more problematic for the Liberals than they first anticipated, with Toronto politicians worrying that emerging transportation voices in the 905 regions would siphon off dollars from the TTC. Similarly, suburban politicians fear their projects would be overwhelmed by the TTC’s voracious appetite for tax dollars.

On March 7, after the Toronto Star revealed the plan to expand the Spadina subway line, Transportation Minister Harinder Takhar acknowledged legislation was being prepared for the GTTA.

“The issue here is we want to make sure we get an organization that can actually do something,” Takhar said then.

But critics have expressed concern that the GTTA wouldn’t be given enough clout to set the agenda for a region-wide transit plan and would instead become bogged down by the competing interests of the regions.

One source feared yesterday that the province was repeating past mistakes by recreating a body like the Greater Toronto Services Board, an ineffectual multi-municipal entity that was dogged by infighting.

Meanwhile, sources say another major transportation-related initiative expected in the budget will be funding for the long-awaited Highway 427 expansion, backed by the City of Vaughan and York and Peel regions. They see it as a means to alleviate congestion on Highway 400 and spur growth.

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