‘Concerns raised’ about two new GO Transit stations, Del Duca acknowledges
Transportation Minister stops short of saying that the two stops, one of which is in his riding, should be removed from province’s plan.
Transportation minister Steven Del Duca, seen here earlier this year during Question Period at Queen’s Park, acknowledged Tuesday that “concerns have been raised” about Metrolinx’s decision to approve two new GO Transit stations despite internal reports that recommended they not be built. (ANDREW FRANCIS WALLACE / TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO)
Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca acknowledged Tuesday that “concerns have been raised” about Metrolinx’s decision to approve two new GO Transit stations despite internal reports that recommended they not be built.
But in a letter to the transit agency’s chair, Del Duca stopped short of saying that the two stops, one of which is in the minister’s riding, should be removed from the list of 12 new GO Transit stations the province plans to build over the next decade.
This week, a Star investigation revealed that last year, Del Duca’s ministry pressured Metrolinx, an arm’s-length agency of the provincial government, into approving the two stations: Kirby, in the minister’s riding of Vaughan; and Lawrence East, a station in Scarborough backed by Mayor John Tory as part of his “SmartTrack” plan.
Kirby would cost $98.4 million to build, while Lawrence East would cost about $23 million.
“As we have always said, all proposed new stations require additional technical and planning analysis, environmental assessments, preliminary and detailed design and extensive community engagement,” Del Duca said in his letter Tuesday to Metrolinx board chair Rob Prichard.
“That said, it is clear that concerns have been raised about the process by which the Kirby and Lawrence East stations were ultimately approved.”
Del Duca wrote that he expects Metrolinx “will not enter into any contractual obligations” for either station until the agency is satisfied that land-use policies and updated GO Transit service concepts justify building the stops.
If the agency’s board and management aren’t convinced that the evidence supports the stations, then they “should be deferred to the next round of consideration at a future date,” the letter said.
Del Duca didn’t specify what he meant by “concerns” about the stations. His office declined to answer follow-up questions Tuesday afternoon.
A spokesperson for Metrolinx also declined to answer questions, but said the agency “will respond appropriately” to Del Duca’s memo.
While the letter is the clearest acknowledgment yet from the provincial government that there may have been irregularities in the station approval process, Del Duca signalled he still supports building the stop in his riding.
He wrote in the letter “there are several significant residential and employment developments” planned nearby, and the people “living or working in these new communities would likely be inclined to access a GO station at Kirby.”
However, initial business cases Metrolinx commissioned last year showed both Kirby and Lawrence East would actually lead to a net loss of ridership on the GO network. They determined neither would attract enough new passengers to offset the number of riders who would stop taking the train because of the longer travel time the new stations would entail.
Documents the Star obtained through a Freedom of Information request show the Metrolinx board voted at a secret meeting on June 15, 2016, not to build the two stops, but changed course after the transportation ministry unexpectedly sent the agency copies of press releases indicating that the following week the minister would announce the stations were going ahead.
Metrolinx then redrafted reports to support the two stops, and days later the board reconvened in public and approved them as part of a package of 12 new stations under the $13.5-billion regional express rail expansion.
Metrolinx didn’t publish the station business cases until nine months after the vote, by which time the Kirby report had been altered to appear more supportive. The agency never released a separate June 2016 report that explicitly recommended against building the two stops. The Star obtained a copy two months ago.
At an unrelated announcement Tuesday morning, Premier Kathleen Wynne didn’t respond directly when a reporter asked whether she believed Del Duca had interfered in the approval process for political purposes.
“Let me just be clear. Those stations will not be built unless the evidence is there,” she replied.
“There has not been a final decision made.”
In the wake of the Star’s investigation, critics have called for Metrolinx’s governance procedures to be overhauled to ensure greater accountability.
“Every board meeting of Metrolinx should be open to the public. Every decision they make and its rationale should be transparent,” Ontario NDP urban transit critic Cheri DiNovo said Monday.
Tory defended his support for the Lawrence East stop on Tuesday during a media availability in Scarborough.
“I make no apologies whatsoever. In fact, I see it as an important part of my job to fight for every transit stop that I can get in the city of Toronto, whether it’s one that forms part of a TTC route or a GO transit route,” he said.
For several months, in defence of building Lawrence East, Tory’s office has referenced a city analysis that appears to never have been published.
The city provided the two-page analysis to the Star on Monday. It challenges some of the numbers in the Metrolinx business case for Lawrence East, but still concludes it would cause a net loss of GO ridership.
It’s unclear why the city analysis, which city spokesperson Jackie DeSouza says was written in June 2016, was never published but used to brief the mayor’s office.