Sunday, April 5, 2009

Big Move is on

Toronto Sun

Toronto's highways are among the busiest and most congested in the world.
Decades of inadequate funding, exacerbated by political squabbling, have resulted in chronic traffic delays that drain $6 billion annually from the GTA economy, wastes energy and pollutes the environment.
For drivers stuck in interminable, bumper-to-bumper traffic jams along the 400-series highways, the price is also needless stress, wasted time and exposure to accidents and mayhem on our roads.
And our transit system suffers from the same ills plaguing truckers and motorists, an aging, crowded and patchwork network of trains, subways, streetcars and buses that is driving potential transit users into their cars.
"It's really frustrating to have to travel an hour and a half just to get to work on time," says Marilyn Lee, a hospital health care worker who commutes daily into Toronto from Richmond Hill. "I'm tired of waiting for something better to happen, I hope this means we can finally get moving."
The something better is $9 billion in new transit projects announced this week by Premier Dalton McGuinty.
The projects include:
- A new rapid transit line on Eglinton Ave. from Kennedy Station to Pearson Airport;
- Upgrading and extending the Scarborough Rapid Transit Line;
- A new rapid transit line along Finch Ave. from the Yonge Subway Line to Hwy. 27 and Humber College, and east to Don Mills Station;
- More buses and stations and dedicated bus lanes for York VIVA Bus Rapid Transit.
But as significant as the cash and the scope of the projects was a decision by the province to overhaul transit governance for the region.
Municipal politicians, including Toronto Mayor David Miller, have been axed from the board of the GTA's powerful, regional transportation authority -- Metrolinx -- and replaced with 15 private-sector experts.
The province also merged Metrolinx with GO Transit, which carries almost 55 million passengers annually on its rail and bus routes.
Critics said the old board paralyzed effective planning for the mass transit system from Hamilton to Peterborough with political infighting, turf wars over funding disputes, resident opposition and parochial decision-making.
The Ontario government's plan is to quicken the pace of GTA rapid transit construction, and job creation, by taking politicians out of the picture.
Dr. Eric Miller, director of the University of Toronto's cities centre, told the Sunday Sun political squabbling for competing transportation priorities within different jurisdictions has thwarted objective decisions.
"It's important to maintain connections with the municipalities because to a large extent they're going to implement a great part of this," Miller said. "But having something which is objective and focused and regional is a step in the right direction."
Rob MacIsaac remains as chairman of Metrolinx and Robert Prichard, the outgoing president and CEO of Torstar Corporation, was named Metrolinx's new transition advisor.
"It's important to say a different board brings different strengths," MacIsaac said. "Metrolinx had an important role in planning for one and a half years, but the role has changed from focus planning to an implementation role."
Metrolinx's $50-billion regional transportation plan, The Big Move, which is 20 years overdue, is being billed as the largest infrastructure plan implemented in Ontario in years. It calls for the takeover of the province's commuter bus and rail service for a mass transit system and the building of 1,200 km of new rapid transit lines involving 50 transit projects.
"My view is the legislation for our plan will be a very important step forward which will allow the regional transportation plan to move more effectively and quickly," MacIsaac said.
The provincial government also introduced legislation this week to merge Metrolinx with GO Transit.
"The coming together with Go Transit and Metrolinx results in a single organization which is better than its predecessors. It brings good policy and program expertise which Go Transit didn't previously have, and GO Transit has operation and project management expertise, which Metrolinx didn't possess," MacIsaac said.
Metrolinx has gained more money and legal status and has become a larger organization with a new private sector board. "We grew from 50 people to 1,300 people. It's a much stronger organization with a lot more bench strength and depth of talent. Metrolinx now has the wherewithal to make regional transportation into a reality," MacIsaac said, adding that Metrolinx's new budget is yet to be determined.
The first projects to tackle include VIVA Hwy. 7 and Yonge St. projects in York Region, the upgrade and extension of the Scarborough rapid transit line, and the Sheppard/Finch rapid transit line, which are scheduled to begin this year and create thousands of jobs to stimulate Ontario's dwindling economy.
The U of T's Miller says the best way to relieve congestion is to build integrated regional transit because unless you live in downtown Toronto, there is no viable option.
"We desperately need to have better transit so people have options. Not everyone needs to be on the QEW and 401 every day," he said.
"We can start to control our land use better, orientate our growth and transit corridors. We also need jobs and stores set up so urban sprawl can be well served by transit. If the destination and the population is too thinly spread, there's not enough density on the top ends to make transit cost effective."
He says Metrolinx's Big Move is a good blueprint that takes a broad approach to the problem, but there are still a lot of details to iron out. "I hope it works. If it doesn't, Metrolinx will have failed and we will all fail. It's critical to maintain the region as a viable place to live and for workers to relocate.
"Cities aren't built overnight. To solve the problem of transit we need a lot of stamina to see this through. The technical objective board doesn't have to justify their existence for the next election and can have a longer term prospective," he said, adding it will take decades to build new the infrastructure.
Miller likens Metrolinx to a big ocean liner.
"We're turning in mid-ocean and it's going to take awhile to turn it around."

~Editor's Note~
The 401 through Dixie Road/Pearson Int'l Airport is the most travelled highway in the North America in terms of volume and lanes.
The 400 series higways continually see increases in volumes and capacities. That means more cars throughout more of the day.
Next time you want to use them as a comparison against the autobahns consider the major differences. Less cars on autobahns, less volumes, less lanes, higher speedsmore deaths???
HMMM....doesn't take rocket science.

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