Open letter to CivicActionPosted: January 18, 2013
Dear Ms. Hunter and Mr. Tory,
I understand that your “What Would You Do With 32 minutes” campaign tries to raise awareness for new transit funding in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), so we can, potentially, alleviate traffic congestion. However, it is actually quite misleading, and goes in the opposite direction. Your campaign is solely based on Metrolinx’s The Big Move plan – a proposal that doesn’t consider any improvements to roads, driven by more than 2/3 of GTHA commuters -, and is also based on a blind trust on their congestion reduction calculations, and on their ability to calculate the costs of their different transit proposals. The projected costs for each one of these proposals are completely overblown; typically, as much as 3 times the amount required to build similar projects. Therefore, if these budgets are so grossly exaggerated, then how do we know the real amount of funds needed to build this plan? And if so, do you really need to make this public transit funding awareness campaign, at all?
Why do I say that these budgets are grossly exaggerated? Well, let’s start with the two subway proposals for Toronto included in The Big Move plan: the Downtown Relief Line, and the Yonge Subway Extension. As a comparison, we will use the most recent subway expansion: the Sheppard subway line, which opened 10 years ago, cost about $900 million to build and is 5.5 km long, ($163 million per km, or about $200 million per km in today’s dollars). Today, Metrolinx is saying that the proposed 13 km long Downtown Relief Line would cost $7.4 billion, or a staggering $570 million per km! On the other hand, the proposed 6 km long Yonge Subway Extension has been budgeted at $3.4 billion, or the same staggering $570 million per km. These two proposed subway lines are almost 3 times more expensive than the Sheppard subway; and they are almost twice the cost of the already overpriced Spadina subway extension to Vaughan – now under construction, and with subway stations that cost 3 times what they should be -.
We can also compare their light rail transit – or LRT – proposals and see how grossly they have been overpriced. As a comparison, we will use the most recent LRT project in Toronto, the St. Clair streetcar right-of-way, which is 7 km long, and cost $110 million to complete (including a $60 million over-budget cost), or $16 million per km. Metrolinx is now proposing to build a 13 km long LRT line on Sheppard East at a projected cost of $1 billion, or $77 million per km; and the 11 km long LRT on Finch West at also $1 billion, or $91 million per km. These numbers are about 5 times more than the already badly managed LRT project construction on St. Clair, and remember that they are all on surface level.
Since the previous winter, I have made numerous warnings and criticisms about these cost exaggerations to municipal, and provincial politicians, and agencies; but, so far, they have been ignored. Quite on the contrary, they have persisted in keeping these same transit budget proposals, or even increasing them.
On the other hand, how do we expect that these construction projects will be done within a rational schedule, when our entire city is plagued by road and transit construction that takes many times longer than what they are supposed to be? – See Toronto’s artificial gridlock. – While this lax work schedule behaviour ends up being a big waste of taxpayers dollars, it is also one of the main factors of road congestion throughout the GTHA. If only the public sector would manage to keep these projects built within a rational and coordinated schedule, they can significantly reduce congestion throughout our entire region.
In any case, will Metrolinx’s plan actually alleviate traffic congestion? Well, that is quite improbable, indeed. The Big Move plan includes a series of LRT proposals that will reduce current road capacity, either by lane reductions, left-turn restrictions, and/or traffic signal preferences for LRT trains. At the same time, Metrolinx admits that, even if they deliver their entire plan, at least 50% of the commuting trips in Toronto will continue to be through driving in personal vehicles; and on top of that they expect an additional 1 million cars in our roads in the next 20 years. Therefore, with these numbers we can only expect an increase of the current traffic congestion; and – to make matters worse – with even less road capacity than what we have today, according to their plan.
Additionally, there are still some politicians at Toronto City Hall who want to reduce road capacity even more – with their plans to bring down the Gardiner Expressway, or to remove the Allen Road’s expressway capacity – but those are absurdities at a different level. There has been a pro-transit and anti-personal car planning agenda in Toronto for almost half a century. However, despite Toronto’s massive increase in population density, the proportion of car usage for daily commuting has remained steady, ever since. This is basically due to the fact that commuting by car is, typically, much faster than by transit. Subways running at an average speed of 30 to 40 km/h can possibly compete with average car speeds, if the transit commute doesn’t involve too many route transfers. However, surface LRTs running at 15 to 20 km/h are, definitively, out of competition. Therefore, in the future we should easily expect a similar proportion of at least 2/3 of commuters being car drivers.
The main subject of this letter is about how much TRUST do the public have with their governments. A few months ago, I attended a Town Hall meeting hosted by Councillor Josh Matlow, where a number of panelists from Metrolinx, TTC, the Toronto’s Board of Trade, among other transit advocates, tried to explain to the attendees about the need to find more taxes and fees for new transit development. Towards the end of the meeting, I asked them how do they expect the people of the GTHA to trust them with their taxes and fees, if the governments and its agencies are not careful with their budgets, and construction schedules? What happened to half a century of gasoline tax that was supposed to be directed for roads, and other transportation infrastructure? Well, none of the panelists offered any answer.
So, will you continue pandering this Metrolinx plan after finding out about their grossly exaggerated budgets; and that also offers no relief to the existing and increasing traffic congestion? A plan that doesn’t reflect rational costs of transit proposals, and that doesn’t include major improvements to road capacity, will not have the public support that CivicAction wishes. In contrast, a plan that includes subways at $200 million per km, or less – read “Five reasons why Toronto can build proper subways for $200 million per km” – a plan that doesn’t include LRTs in the middle of busy roads, a plan that includes new highways on existing hydro or transportation corridors (even if they are new toll roads) – see Toronto Waterfront Viaduct proposal and Get Toronto Moving plan -, a plan that includes new traffic improvement technologies on existing streets and highways – see ITS-ETO -, a plan that physically separates bicycle lanes, a plan that makes residential streets safer by removing intrusive traffic from within, a plan that makes commuting better for all modes of urban transportation, and a plan that involves private sector’s funding, is a plan that can have public support. Otherwise, we will just remain in a status-quo of increased cost-of-living, lax oversight on public funds, and a continuing increase of traffic congestion.
- Metrolinx’s The Big Move