For the first time since a violent storm disconnected the peninsula from the mainland in 1858, pedestrians can now walk to the Toronto Islands - or at least the airport located there. A new fixed pedestrian link connecting Eireann Quay and Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport opened to the public today, joining the islands and the mainland via an underwater tunnel running approximately 100 feet below the surface. Since opening in 1939, the Island Airport, as many refer to it, has only been accessible from the mainland via a short ferry route—that is until earlier this afternoon when the first pedestrians crossed the 853 foot/260 metre tunnel below Toronto Harbour's Western Gap.

The opening event, held inside the island-side terminal, was attended by representatives of Ports Toronto as well as politicians including Mayor John Tory and Federal Minister of Transport Lisa Raitt. Raitt previously served various roles within the Toronto Ports Authority, the predecessor to Ports Toronto. Former Mayor and Ward 2 councilor Rob Ford was also in attendance, as the $82.5 million project was initiated in 2012, during his administration.

Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport Pedestrian Tunnel, Ports TorontoInside the atrium at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, image by Jack Landau

"The pedestrian tunnel to the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport provides residents and visitors alike the level of customer service and convenience one would expect of a world class city like Toronto" said Mayor John Tory. This pedestrian tunnel is a perfect example of how private and public partnerships can help reimagine Toronto and build up the city. I want to thank all of those involved in getting us to today.” 

Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport Pedestrian Tunnel, Ports Toronto(L-R) John Tory, Lisa Raitt, and Mark McQueen cutting ribbon for the new pedestrian tunnel, image by Jack Landau

Following speeches by dignitaries and a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony, the media was ushered down two very long banks of escalators within the terminal, for our first look inside of the newly-completed tunnel. The tunnel can be accessed from the island side by one of the longest escalator systems in Canada, elevators, or a staircase of 153 steps. We, along with a crush crowd of media, chose the escalators. 

Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport Pedestrian Tunnel, Ports TorontoDescending from the airport atrium towards the tunnel, image by Jack Landau

The escalator system is divided into two banks, with a short landing in between them.

Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport Pedestrian Tunnel, Ports TorontoLanding between the escalators, image by Jack Landau

Down the second escalator...

Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport Pedestrian Tunnel, Ports TorontoDescending the second escalator towards the tunnel, image by Vik Pahwa

At the bottom of the second set of escalators, those heading for the mainland find themselves at the entrance to the tunnel proper, which measures approximately 550 feet end-to-end, excluding approaches. Ten metres of lake water sits above the top of the tunnel, which takes approximately six minutes to cross at average walking speeds.

Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport Pedestrian Tunnel, Ports TorontoFacing north across the tunnel to the mainland side, image by Vik Pahwa

The tunnel can move approximately 1,100 pedestrians per hour, largely with the help of four automated walkways, or movators, similar to the ones found in larger airports around the world.

Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport Pedestrian Tunnel, Ports TorontoCrossing the tunnel via an automated walkway, image by Jack Landau

Digital screens are mounted above the moving walkways. These are just a few of the 42 screens installed throughout the airport, including the pavilion, atrium and tunnel. 

Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport Pedestrian Tunnel, Ports TorontoDisplay screens inside of the tunnel, image by Vik Pahwa

Facing back to the south from the city side, the tunnel got its first real capacity test as a crowd of media and dignitaries made the crossing.

Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport Pedestrian Tunnel, Ports TorontoA large group crossing northbound through the tunnel, image by Jack Landau

At the north end of the tunnel, a bank of six elevators leads up to a bright pavilion at the foot of Eireann Quay, where a convoy of taxis and shuttle buses await to fight their way through traffic to destinations in the city. While this is clearly the more convenient method of the crossing Western Gap for patrons of the airport, vehicles as well as those who appreciate the romanticism or novelty of the short boat ride will still be served by the ferry.

Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport Pedestrian Tunnel, Ports TorontoElevators at the north end of the tunnel, image by Vik Pahwa

Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport Pedestrian Tunnel, Ports TorontoPavilion where the elevators surface, image by Vik Pahwa

The project has been the recipient of multiple awards, including the Tunneling Association of Canada’s 2014 Canadian Project of the Year Award, and International Tunnelling & Underground Space Association’s 2014 Specialist Tunnelling Project of the Year Award. In addition to providing a crucial pedestrian link to the airport, the tunnel also includes new municipal water and sewer mains traveling to and from the island, incorporated into three of the tunnel drifts. The inclusion of these services in the project has saved an estimated $10 million in construction costs, that may have otherwise been payed through taxes. 

Additional information and renderings can be found in our dataBase file for the project, linked below. Want to get involved in the discussion? Check out the associated Forum thread, or leave a comment using the space provided at the bottom of this page.