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Scarborough commuters face years-long wait for busway that is still unfunded

Commuters could be without any meaningful replacement for the decommissioned Scarborough RT for at least three more years, if they get another option at all.

Since decommissioning the Scarborough RT following its summer 2023 derailment, the Toronto Transit Commission has been considering alternatives to the rapid transit route.

Converting the now-abandoned rail infrastructure into a busway has been favoured by city hall, with staff suggesting buses running along the old route would get to Scarborough Town Centre seven minutes quicker than if they were forced to drive in traffic.

The plan, however, has three problems: it is over budget, unfunded and at least three years away from completion.

A new report presented to the TTC board on Thursday shows design work for the project is only 60 per cent complete and costs are escalating. The report said the projected cost to convert the old transit line into a bus route has skyrocketed to $67.9 million, an increase of $12.2 million over its original price tag.

In the report, staff admit that the number is likely to “fluctuate” until design work reaches completion.

Toronto hopes that Queen’s Park, which recently agreed to fund hundreds of millions of dollars to operate two light rail lines and buy new subway trains, will step in to help with the busway.

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“The TTC in partnership with the City of Toronto is currently seeking provincial funding for the construction of the Busway as part of ongoing discussions,” staff said.

Those negotiations with the province, part of a broader subway funding conversation, are expected to wrap up in June 2024.

Provincial briefing notes obtained by Global News suggest Queen’s Park may be reluctant to offer the money Toronto wants to build the Scarborough busway.

A briefing prepared for Transportation Minister Prabmeet Sarkaria in September 2023 highlighted the funding city hall wants for the busway and operating funds for buses while it waits for a Scarborough subway extension.

“The province has never agreed to such terms but is willing to receive further details from the city about the bus replacement program it is proposing,” one briefing line said.

Further down the document, provincial staff added: “As the city and the TTC are the owners of the SRT, they are responsible for all aspects of the system and determining the future of the infrastructure.”

A spokesperson for the Transportation Minister pointed to the deal Queen’s Park signed with Toronto in November, which included taking the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway off city hall’s books.

“As part of this new deal, the province has agreed to provide the City with provincial operating supports over three years and significant capital relief to assist the City with its financial recovery plan,” the spokesperson said.

The province also said they were supporting the city with more than $2.7 billion in gas tax and safe restart funding for transit.

If Toronto can find the money it needs to build the Scarborough busway, staff said work could begin in 2025 and take two years to complete.

Toronto Coun. Josh Matlow said in a social media post the city was “failing” transit riders in Scarborough. He called for accountability from local staff and funding from Queen’s Park.

Advocacy group TTCRiders said the city “can’t afford even more delays” to the project.

In the interim, the city has added some signal priority, bus lanes and queue jump lanes between Kennedy Station and Scarborough Centre Station as commuters who once used the RT pile into buses.

In the long-term, the TTC estimates demolishing the line could cost between $150 and $150 million.

&copy 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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