Saturday, October 25, 2008

Transit plan bolder than its budget - Toronto Star

The Metrolinx Regional Transportation Plan and Investment Strategy is moving forward and is currently in the public consultation process, and if you haven't attended a public meeting, you really should. It's your chance to talk with Metrolinx staff members and offer your first hand input to help shape The Big Move.

In an article published in the Toronto Star this morning warns us that while the promised $11.5 billion in provincial Move Ontario 2020 dollars is enough to start construction on the priority projects outlined on Page 61 of the Draft RTP, it may only be enough to see less than half to completion. According to the investment strategy, the Move Ontario 2020 money should last until 2015 (2017 if the federal government contributes its 1/3rd share of $6 billion), and a funding review in 2013 will identify revenue source to continue funding the RTP through the 15 and 25 year milestones. This route was chosen so that the citizens of the GTHA and Ontario could see progress and know their dollars will be going to a tangible object instead of into the cloud. While there might not be new routes open by 2013, there will be significant construction (even if there is only 6 projects underway instead of 15) and there will be something to show to the public - but this doesn't mean we shouldn't be looking at ways to optimize the priority projects to make sure they come in on budget and are delivered faster.

For the VIVA and Hamilton Rapid Transit improvements, which already have some foundation, the quick-start should be to improve service frequencies - especially in Hamilton. Transit priority systems should be installed, such as priority signals, but transit-only lanes should be built in phases starting with the areas experiencing the most congestion first. For the projects like Dundas, Hurontario, Highway 2 and Queen Street, we have to concentrate to getting buses running to VIVA service levels before we talk about transit-only lanes.

For the Yonge Street subway extension, there may be opportunities to rough-in certain stations rather then finish them immediately. The priority here should be to serve key stations such as Steeles, Richmond Hill Centre and one of the Thornhill stations, and complete other stations over time.

For the GO electrification project, we may have to consider Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) trains similar in design to those used in Europe in order to cut costs. These trains offer many of the benefits of electrified trains (such as speed and acceleration), but do not require the expensive overhead wires.

For the Eglinton line and other Transit City projects, the tunnels are the most expensive parts of the project. The philosophy used to plan Toronto's network of LRT lines so far has been to tunnel if the roadway will be too narrow for two lanes of traffic with a surface right-of-way (about 30 metres in width). However, there are many cities in the world which survive with only one lane of traffic in each direction. The TTC is currently studying the possibility of this, and it should come as no surprise that there will be doom-and-gloom talk. We have to tread carefully, but if taking away a lane from cars can be viable for all involved, we have to seize the opportunity.

Money is always a tough issue, and the lack of it sends us in one of two directions. Either we find efficiencies on some of the priority projects, or we have the discussion about additional funding sources here and now. Unfortunately, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that both directions spell trouble on the horizon.

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