Two years ago, Toronto introduced its Transit City plan, which would provide 120 km of light rail lines in the city, largely replacing existing well-used bus lines and supplementing the two major lines of subway service currently offered by the Toronto Transit Commission. In addition, both the Yonge and Spadina branches of the subway would be extended north into York County.
Yesterday, the province of Ontario announced that it would spend $27.5 billion on infrastructure projects over the next two years to act as a recession-fighting stimulus. This amount includes $3 billion for transit. The funds, however, were not designated to specific projects in the province’s plan; they have not been specifically earmarked for the Transit City proposal, which is construction-ready but yet to be funded. It’s unclear if the money will be spent on the light rail lines, the subway extensions, or some other, yet to be announced program. The Canadian federal government has yet to make an announcement on its stimulus program.
Toronto’s Globe and Mail discussed the news. “Toronto Mayor David Miller dismissed skeptical questions from reporters and praised the government for a ‘massive investment’ in infrastructure, saying he is confident Toronto will get its fair share and his light-rail transit expansion plans will be funded. ‘Can’t you take good news as good news? This is good news,’ Mr. Miller said.” Transit City’s seven lines are expected to be completed in stages between 2012 and 2017, with construction beginning next year.
Though Ontario’s announcement lacks specificity, the Liberal administration there is far more proactive than the conservative government leading Canada as a whole, which has been dragging its feet relentlessly on whether to build a high-speed rail line between Québec and Windsor. Canadian provinces, which are as independent as U.S. states, have a higher degree of control over expenditures, which explains why Ontario is capable of making such a large spending proposal without federal support.
With the American government constrained in its ability to expand its spending because of concerns about budget deficits on the part of Democratic moderates in the Senate, perhaps it is time for the more progressive states to consider expanding their revenue sources for the benefit of such infrastructure projects. In transit, for instance, while it may be easy to rely on Washington for New Start funds, the consequence is too frequently a political game, where cities must jump through hoops to get their projects paid for, especially during conservative administrations. If states were to play a bigger funding role, by assuming more of the payment obligations on capital costs, transit expansion would probably occur more rapidly.
Image above: Toronto Transit City, from Toronto Transit Commission