Mayor calls for subway commitment

Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti says voters must put pressure on senior levels of government to force the issue of extending the Yonge subway line into York Region.

Despite the recent news of combined federal and provincial funding of $370 million to address transit needs in the region, Scarpitti says it is not enough and that a commitment must be made to spend the estimated $4.1 billion to build the subway north to Highway 7.

“It’s time to sound the alarm bell,” said Scarpitti.

The Markham mayor fears, with a provincial election looming and a federal election next year, the opportunity for the subway will be lost unless party leaders step up and promise the long sought after funds. Saying he is concerned Ottawa won’t be granting more money any time soon, Scarpitti believes, without a commitment from provincial leaders now, the opportunity will be lost when a new government takes office.

“We can’t afford another term of a provincial government taking office without a promise of starting this project,” he explained. “This is the top transit priority for York Region and we can’t let this opportunity slip by.”

He went on to point out York Region is no longer a bedroom community and transit issues are a justifiable concern, especially for emerging economic engines such as Markham. But, residents and commuters from outside the area have to suffer through inadequate transportation networks that has them crammed into buses or stuck in rush hour highway traffic.

Scarpitti believes the subway will alleviate congestion, end frustration for commuters and help build on a comprehensive transit system for the entire region. A five-stop subway extension up to Highway 7 would eliminate 2,500 bus trips along Yonge St.

Although he welcomes the recent funding news, Scarpitti says Queen’s Park specifically must dig deeper into its pockets to solve transit problems in York Region.

“This falls short and does not meet the needs of our region, or the vision for the future,” he said. “We want our fair share, not piece meal funding. A subway extension can only be built once long-term funding is secured. We cannot let another four years go by without a shovel in the ground.”

Still, some politicians see the recent funding announcement as a good starting point for turning the subway dream into a reality.

“Any time you get money from the federal and provincial governments it is good news for us,” Wayne Emmerson, York Region chair, told The Review during the signing of the agreement March 14 at Mississauga.

A subway extension in the long term is seen as the backbone of an integrated transit system that calls for connecting east-west routes throughout all parts of York Region. While much of the work still has to be done, Emmerson says he is optimistic this portion of the funding is only the beginning.

“I did talk to the minister (Amarjeet Sohi, federal infrastructure and communities minister) and, while I wouldn’t put him on the spot, he did say ‘we are working with you on that’,” said Emmerson. “We have some work to do to get a shovel ready and that is the main thing going forward.”

Scarpitti, however, believes without the benefit of large-scale media to boost concerns, those most affected in York Region must speak out. He said, at election time, politicians must be pressed on the issue. He urged the use of #yongesubway now to help spread the message.

In making the recent announcement, Sohi said aside from transit, other areas targeted for funding include programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to build resilience to the impacts of climate change. Funding is also slated to help build stronger communities and improve social inclusion through culture and recreation funding.

Photo: Proposed extension of the Yonge subway line. Image courtesy of Vivanext.

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