In October 2016, a local ratepayers group named the Glen Andrew Community Association released a proposal outlining a new potential alignment for the Scarborough Subway extension. Rather than continuing almost due north as the City-proposed alignment does, this new alignment would take a 90 degree turn at Scarborough Town Centre and terminate in an open field west of the mall.
Dubbed "the Big Bend", it was supported by Scarborough Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38) and Liberal MPP Brad Duguid (Scarborough-Centre). The proposal was heralded as an innovative approach to solving some of the technical challenges of the current alignment, including the location of the launch shaft. It could also be seen, however, as a Trojan Horse for getting the Sheppard Subway extension back on the table.
The Sheppard Subway was initially proposed in the 1980s, in a plan called Network 2011. The subway was planned to run from Yonge St to Scarborough Town Centre via Sheppard Ave East. Due to budget cuts imposed by Mike Harris after his election in 1995, only Phase 1 of the line, from Yonge to Don Mills, was completed.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s that plan evolved further, with the results shown in the image above. The alignment the subway takes to reach Scarborough Town Centre veers off Sheppard just east of Kennedy Road, and enters the Town Centre area on an east-west alignment, terminating in nearly the same location as the proposed Big Bend.
When former Mayor David Miller announced Transit City in 2007, the Sheppard Subway extension was dropped in favour of an LRT line from Don Mills to Meadowvale Road. When Rob Ford was elected in 2010, the he unilaterally proclaimed the Sheppard East LRT, along with the rest of Transit City, dead. However, in 2012 Council held a special meeting in which they voted to reinstate the Sheppard East LRT and Finch West LRT.
In 2015, the Province announced that construction on the Sheppard East LRT would not start until at least 2021, the projected completion year of the Finch West LRT. This deferment has effectively kicked the can so far down the road that while the project is still officially 'on the books', transit options for Sheppard East are now fairly open for debate again, particularly for a Toronto City Council that has shown an inclination towards re-considering suburban transit infrastructure projects.
This brings us back to the Big Bend. While the TTC has recently stated that it will not recommend that alignment for further study, the possibility still exists that it goes forward with a Council vote in its favour. The possibility of linking a future Sheppard Subway extension to the terminus of the extended Bloor-Danforth line has caused even some who formerly opposed the Sheppard Subway extension to now be in favour of it. “I’m a convert. I believe the Sheppard Subway should be extended to the Scarborough Civic Centre" Glenn De Baeremaeker told Inside Toronto last week. If the existence of the Big Bend has caused one outspoken Councillor to change his opinion, could others be swayed as well?
The potential re-approval of the Sheppard Subway would no doubt be an expensive one. A report prepared for the City of Toronto in 2011 concluded that an extension of the Sheppard Subway to Scarborough Town Centre would cost upwards of $3 billion. Given the rate of inflation of the cost estimates on the Scarborough Subway project, that number could wind up much higher. With the Relief Line approaching the stage where construction funding will need to be committed, a diversion of funds from that desperately needed corridor to one where the numbers have repeatedly been shown to not warrant a subway, would be a large misuse of limited infrastructure funds.
The Community Association's desire to reduce construction impacts for its members via a new alignment is an understandable one, but Toronto Councillors and citizens should be wary of the Trojan Horse that this alignment could represent. There are no doubt many in the former Ford camp who would love another kick at the Sheppard Subway can. Approving this alignment may wind up putting that can on a tee for them.