Build the Relief Line first, then extend the Yonge subway into York Region.

That's the conclusion of a Metrolinx staff report (.pdf) for the regional transit agency's board to consider during its meeting next week.

Both the Relief Line South and North and the Yonge North subway extension are priority projects that Metrolinx has included in its 2041 regional transportation plan. The City of Toronto has approved an alignment for the Relief Line South, extending from Pape Station on the TTC's Line 2 to Osgoode Station on Line 1 to relieve crowding at the Bloor–Yonge interchange station. In January, Mayor John Tory announced a City-TTC plan to speed up the building of this line so that it could open by 2029.

City Council has approved this alignment and these stations for the Relief Line South subway, image City of Toronto

The Relief Line North project would extend the subway northward from Pape—possibly as far north as Sheppard Avenue—to further relieve the near-capacity situation on the Yonge branch of Line 1. The Yonge North project would extend Line 1 further northward from its current terminal at Finch into Vaughan, Markham and Richmond Hill. It would also result in even more riders aboard Line 1 trains.

According to the report's authors, "Forecasts suggest that Relief Line South will attract ridership to unequivocally justify subway-level service. Transit-oriented development opportunities can further boost ridership. Transit network forecasts [also] show that Relief Line South needs to be in operation before the Yonge North Subway Extension. Relief Line North provides further crowding relief for Line 1."

Metrolinx, the City and TTC are examining how to extend the relief line subway further north, image, City of Toronto

Metrolinx is leading the team—including staff from the City and the TTC—working on the Relief Line North initial business case. The team is evaluating a list of six alternative routes to determine their feasibility. They are refining these six alternatives and working towards developing a short list.

Metrolinx says it's also examining the overall network effects of the projects to evaluate how they perform together. It has not released exact data to substantiate the staff recommendations and only presents the various scenarios graphically.

A 2012 map of plans for the Yonge North subway extension, image, York Region, vivaNext, TTC

The report reveals that without any of these projects being built, the Yonge branch of Line 1 would be at its capacity in "the peak direction" by 2041. Trains could not carry more passengers and trains and platforms would be severely overcrowded. The TTC plan to install automatic train control on Line 1 would increase its capacity to handle more riders, but the line would still be close to the maximum level for functioning effectively.

Building the Relief Line South only would help reduce the capacity on Line 1, but it would still be close to its limit. Extending the subway into York Region only—without building the Relief Line south—would result in Line 1 exceeding its capacity. Opening both the Relief Line south and the Line 1 extension together would reduce the overcrowding of the previous scenario, but Line 1 would still be over its limit to effectively carry commuters to and from their destination.

Metrolinx and its partners are considering six different alignments for the Relief Line North, image, Metrolinx

Only by allowing the north and south sections of the Relief Line to open before the Yonge extension would Metrolinx, the City and TTC be able to safely and efficiently continue to operate Line 1. All five scenarios would significantly increase the number of passengers riding the subway network.

In an article in the Toronto Star, transportation writer Ben Spurr quoted Markham mayor Frank Scarpitti's reaction to the news:

"In an interview Thursday, Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, a vocal proponent of the Yonge Extension, called the new Metrolinx report 'an about face' and said the agency has 'some explaining to do.'

"He suggested Metrolinx was kowtowing to the interests of Toronto and its mayor. 'Maybe Metrolinx has become "Torontolinx," I’m not sure. Maybe Mayor (John) Tory got appointed to the chair of "Torontolinx" overnight,' he said.

"Scarpitti asserted the 'Yonge subway is not going to take a back seat to any project in the GTA' and called on Premier Doug Ford to publicly confirm the provincial government will proceed with both projects."

Metrolinx has reviewed five scenarios for sequencing the building of the rapid transit lines, image, Metrolinx

In May 2018, the Mayor Tory formally signed a memorandum of agreement so the City could officially receive joint federal and provincial funds for local transit projects, including the Relief Line and the Yonge extension.

Meanwhile, the Government of Ontario continues to consider plans to upload responsibility for the capital costs of subway infrastructure in Toronto.

The Metrolinx board of directors meets February 7 to discuss the report.

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