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York University Subway Extension is a Go


The Toronto Star is reporting that the provincial government will announce funding to extend the Spadina subway from Downsview to York University in finance minister Dwight Duncan’s first budget on Thursday, March 23. It is estimated that the 6.2 km extension will cost $1.5 billion to build (the full environmental assessment can be found here). The city has asked the provincial and federal governments to kick in a third of the cost. Duncan has not said whether the province will provide its $500 million share, or if it will provide more, or less.

The article pays a lot of attention to the political aspects of this decision. It is implied that Liberal support for this project has been bought through the promise of 905 votes, and that money is available now because the provincial deficit is not as high as reported, and the finance minister would rather eliminate the deficit “in dramatic fashion” before the province goes to the polls on October 4, 2007.

Other public transit initiatives that could receive funding in the next budget include VIVA, which is expected to receive $7.5 million towards moving its buses onto private right-of-way lanes on Yonge Street, and a GO transitway along Highway 403 in Mississauga.

Personal Commentary

As a transit fan and a subway fan, a part of me is excited that subway expansion will continue. I believe this city would not be in the state it was in if subway construction hadn’t stalled back in 1980, and the Sheppard subway is a stub that needs to be completed, eventually. The York University extension, at least, takes the Spadina subway to a far better destination than the scrub fields that surround Downsview, and the new terminal represents a strong transit hub for the whole of the GTA.

However, one should read Steve Munro’s contrarian essay and wonder if this is the best way for the province and the city to spend $1.5 billion (likely $215 million per year spread over seven years) on public transit. The proposed ridership will be higher than the Sheppard subway, but it could still be contained by the bus-only roadway that’s to start construction later this year. The TTC needs hundreds of millions to replace the aging Scarborough RT, the city hopes to construct LRT lines which could potentially serve more people, and it continues to struggle to maintain the service it now provides.

The province is being drawn into funding a subway extension because it’s political hot stuff. Politicians always gravitate towards megaprojects like this, at the expense of the bread-and-butter services that do more good for local residents. There are benefits to extending the Spadina subway to York University, but I’m not certain that they represent the best use of provincial and city money, while other transit initiatives go begging.