The good news just keeps rolling in for SmartTrack.
Delayed reports, ridership modelling problems, notices of being ‘unaffordable and unworkable’. That’s not a stroke you’re having. It’s the acrid smell of desperation.
Yesterday in the Toronto Star, Jennifer Pagliaro reported that there’s a number floating around City Hall that represents the price tag for the so-called western spur of the SmartTrack plan. The part of the plan that very likely calls for the dreaded ‘tunneling’ word, digging up stretches of Eglinton Avenue. An aspect of the plan that, as a candidate for mayor, John Tory first said wouldn’t be necessary but as time went on, and he transformed from candidate to frontrunner, admitted to, yeah, probably, they’d have to dig but that had been accounted for in the $8 billion cost.
Well now, apparently, there’s an actual number but those in the know at City Hall are either pretending there isn’t or that we’ll be told what that number is when the time comes for us to be told.
It’s hard not to read this as just another setback in the making for the mayor and his signature transit plan. If the number being held back was favourable to SmartTrack’s cause, you’d think the mayor and his supporters would be shouting it loud and proud. He certainly needs some positive spin on this that isn’t just his. Unless, of course, he’s going all Henry the IVth on us, piling on the disappointment and dim expectations in order to amplify the success when it all turns out to be exactly like he said it would. “…he may be more wondered at/By breaking through the foul and ugly mists/Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.”
But maybe not.
The question is, just how far down dug in is Mayor Tory on pursuing SmartTrack if it does indeed turn out to be the lemon every indication is suggesting it is right now? Does he ride it, Slim Pickens-like, right into a fiery explosion, taking a whole lot of shit with it? In typical fashion, he’s left himself with very little wiggle room to step back. Just like he did on police carding. Just like he did on the Gardiner East.
How badly off the mark do the reports and whatever numbers they contain have to be before Mayor Tory is willing to about-face, admit it was a bad idea, his intentions were good and noble but… let’s move on, shall we? He’s said almost from the start that they hadn’t done any engineering studies or the like when the pitched the plan on the campaign trail. There were bound to be some mistakes in calculation. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Who wouldn’t love 53 kilometres and 22 stations of surface subway all up and ready to go in just 7 years? Just 7 years!
Even if the mayor remains undeterred in the face of mounting evidence that SmartTrack isn’t all that, plus a bag of 3 day old, stale donuts, are there really 22 councillors willing to follow his transit folly? I know, I know. Much of this is the same council who wound up dancing the Scarborough subway jig that Rob Ford beat out time to. Let’s not rule out any dire possibility because these people, a majority of them at any rate, are clearly capable of doing anything, absolutely anything.
But it just seems to me SmartTrack doesn’t carry the same visceral, emotional baggage a subway in Scarborough did/does. Nobody’s picked up the mantle of deserving SmartTrack. This is John Tory’s baby, fully, completely. Bully pulpit or not, he’s got to sell it to his council colleagues and if there’s a stink attached, how much political capital does the mayor still have to use?
If you want to get a sense of just how tough a sell SmartTrack is shaping up to be, re-read Pagliaro’s article and remember, it isn’t an editorial, an opinion piece. It’s a news report and I don’t recall reading such a pointed newspaper article, at least not since the frenzied crack period of the Ford administration. The article oozes testiness and impatience.
Pagliaro refers to SmartTrack as something ‘dreamed up by Mayor John Tory’s campaign team’. She points out that a staffer in the city manager’s office stopped communicating with her. The mayor seems to be obfuscating, saying the report isn’t finished, there are no numbers or he hasn’t seen any numbers or document.
Pagliaro sums up what we do know so far about the SmartTrack reports city staff have delivered.
What’s noticeably absent are the costs.
But it’s not because they’re not available.
I spoke to chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat this week, who confirmed the actual HDR report submitted to the city contains “high-level” costs for the western spur options.
So, what are they?
Keesmaat won’t tell.
She told me to take it up with the city manager’s office.
Colour Jennifer Pagliaro of the Toronto Star SmartTrack skeptical. It’s feeling more and more like we’re being dicked around here. It was a plan that from the very beginning was full of holes (not the good kind you could drive a subway train through), and nothing that’s happened over the course of the past 18 months has done anything to begin filling them. In fact, Mayor Tory continues to dig more holes, creating an even bigger hill he has to push this thing up.
After the Scarborough subway debacle, there are very few bridges left for this mayor to burn on the transit file. Unrealistic cost estimates, questionable alignments, dubious ridership numbers. We’ve heard it all before, just recently, in fact. It’s hard to imagine there’s enough political will to suck another one up, not now, not again.
So, just how persuasive does Mayor Tory believe he is? Just how gullible does he think we are? Just how gullible are we?
— still smartingly submitted by Cityslikr