On Monday, November 13th and Wednesday, November 15th, the latest round of Public Consultations will begin for the Eglinton West LRT, also known as the western extension of the Crosstown LRT. The Eglinton West LRT will extend the Crosstown from its terminus at Mount Dennis (currently under construction) to Renforth Station (Commerce) at the Mississauga border, with a connection from there to Pearson Airport. While the alignment along Eglinton has been more or less determined, the alignment into Pearson is still being studied, and rests heavily on the future plans for the Regional Transit Centre at Pearson Airport, which themselves are still very preliminary.

The EA-approved alignment of the Eglinton West LRT, image courtesy of the City of Toronto

The Eglinton West LRT was originally part of the Crosstown LRT project during the earlier days of Transit City. When the McGuinty government decided in 2010 to reduce transit funding, several portions of Transit City lines were 'deferred', with the western portion of the Crosstown being one of them (the Finch West LRT between Finch West Station and Finch Station, the Sheppard East LRT east of Morningside, and the Scarborough LRT north of Sheppard towards Malvern were the other notable casualties). The remainder of the original Crosstown plan was the only Transit City line to survive the Ford years without any significant modifications or delays, and is currently scheduled to be complete in 2021.

The original Transit City LRT plan, prior to the McGuinty government's 2010 cuts, image courtesy of the City of Toronto

The Eglinton West LRT was revived in a rather roundabout way. When Toronto Mayor John Tory announced his SmartTrack plan during the 2014 Mayoral campaign, it included a heavy rail spur along Eglinton West from the existing Kitchener Line corridor at Mount Dennis to Renforth Gateway at the Mississauga border. Given the lack of a complete Richview corridor right-of-way (a remnant of the cancelled Richview Expressway which would have paralleled Eglinton Ave West) due to the City selling off pieces of the corridor during the Ford years, tunnelling the majority of this heavy rail spur was to be the only reasonable option. Critics immediately decried this option as unnecessary and overly expensive, but Tory pressed forward with the Eglinton West spur as part of his SmartTrack plan, ultimately shoehorning it into official City policy after his 2014 electoral victory.

John Tory's SmartTrack plan, part of his 2014 Mayoral campaign platform, image courtesy of JohnTory.ca

It wasn't until January 2016, after consultations with City Staff and Metrolinx, that Tory agreed to drop the Eglinton West SmartTrack spur in favour of a return to the original Transit City LRT plan for the corridor from nearly a decade earlier. With that reversion to LRT, SmartTrack would operate exclusively on existing GO corridors as an 'overlay' type of service, focusing specifically on serving Toronto. Despite a return to LRT technology for the Eglinton West corridor however, the project is still bundled in with SmartTrack for funding purposes, which was approved by Council in November 2016.

The original Eglinton West LRT plan was approved in a 2010 Environmental Assessment (EA) which covered the entire original Eglinton Crosstown LRT alignment, including the portion currently under construction. Despite this approved EA, City Staff and Metrolinx are looking at opportunities to "enhance and refine" the plan for the Eglinton West LRT.

What form the enhancements and refinements will take however remains unclear. The original Transit City plan proceeded very much with the design intention that an LRT line should be placed in the median of a roadway, unless right-of-way width or other issues preclude that option. This is why when one examines the Transit City plan as a whole, aside from the central section of Eglinton, which is tunnelled due to the narrow right-of-way, and the now-cancelled Scarborough LRT, which has a pre-existing right-of-way, the vast majority of the trackage for Transit City lines that had designs completed featured in-median LRT, with relatively small stop spacing.

This design choice was particularly confounding for Eglinton West, since there was a perfectly reasonable corridor running directly parallel to Eglinton West, the Richview Corridor, which would have eliminated the need to run the LRT down the middle of Eglinton. A trenched or elevated LRT through this corridor would have negated the need to perform any substantial alterations to Eglinton Ave West at all.

Construction of Ottawa's Confederation Line LRT in the old Transitway trench, image courtesy of the Ottawa Citizen

Sadly, as was mentioned earlier, this Richview Corridor configuration is no longer an option. What is an option however is to build 'fly-unders' at major cross streets (Scarlett, Royal York, Islington, Kipling, Martin Grove), whereby the LRT would descend to a cut and cover station beneath the intersection, avoiding conflicts with cross traffic. While this would increase the cost of construction, it would reduce delays to both the LRT and to cross traffic significantly.

Another option is to elevate the LRT down the median of Eglinton Ave West, similar to the Canada Line and SkyTrain in Vancouver. Eglinton Ave West is well-suited to this option, given that the majority of the properties on the south side back onto the road, and the majority of the north side of the road is still vacant land. Both of these options would provide for a completely grade-separated LRT line between Pearson Airport/Renforth Station and almost Leslie St, where the line encounters a single traffic signal (another case of 'in-median as default' design when there were arguably better options available) before becoming grade-separated again until east of Don Mills Rd.

An elevated section of the Canada Line, image courtesy of 24H Vancouver

While the presentation materials have not yet been made public, Urban Toronto will continue to monitor the evolution of the Eglinton West LRT design, and will keep you up-to-date should anything important develop with this project. In the meantime, you can make your voices heard at the Public Consultation sessions. If you'd like to voice your opinion to Urban Toronto readers too, you can do so by visiting our associated forum thread, or by leaving a comment in the section below.