Torontonians got a chance to peer into a crystal ball Wednesday to view the near future of their city's rapid transit network.
A City of Toronto staff report heading to the City's Executive Committee for review updates members of Council—and Torontonians—on the status of multiple transit projects on the drawing boards.
The report discusses the status of the projects, while the City and the Province of Ontario negotiate the terms of Ontario's plans to "upload" or re-align responsibility for rapid-transit construction and operations in Toronto. The City staff report notes that the outcome of this discussion will inform provincial and municipal cost-sharing for various transit infrastructure projects for federal funding. The report authors also dryly add that "It is important to note that recommendations in this report are agnostic of asset ownership and are based on what is required to best serve the transit network and the safety of riders."
At a press conference in the TTC's busy Bloor–Yonge station, Mayor John Tory emphasized that this report shows that the city is quickly proceeding with these projects to build transit, despite the looming possibility of the province reshuffling responsibility for them. Over the last several years, the city has invested $224 million to advance these priority projects, apparently contradicting the provincial claim that the Toronto isn't working fast enough.
In a news article in the Toronto Star, transportation reporter Ben Spurr quotes the mayor. "As the report makes clear, this is a critical moment to actually push ahead and build transit. We have arrived at that moment only because we have been doing the quiet, time-consuming and, to some extent, expensive, planning and design work to get us to that point," Tory said. "We’re at a crossroads—the crossroads is either we keep driving forward or we hit the brakes and reverse direction again."
In 2016, City Council approved a transit network plan that identified several projects that address capacity constraints on the TTC subway network (specifically Line 1, the Yonge–University subway), support future growth and city-building objectives, and provide rapid transit service to underserved areas of Toronto. The City's investment has resulted in it preparing several projects for procurement and construction in 2019 and 2020, including:
- the SmartTrack stations program;
- the Line 2 Bloor–Danforth subway east extension project to Scarborough Centre Station;
- the Exhibition Loop-to-Dufferin Loop streetcar connection (a priority segment of the Waterfront Transit Network Plan); and
- the Relief Line south subway project.
Other key projects still in early planning phases also continue to progress, such as improving capacity at Bloor-Yonge Station, extending the Eglinton light rail transit line east- and westward and the Waterfront transit network plan.
In 2018, the Government of Canada and the Province of Ontario announced an agreement on Phase 2 of the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, which included $4.897 billion in federal funding and $4.040 billion in provincial funding for public transit infrastructure projects in Toronto. Phase 2 is a ten year program (2018-2028), specifically for projects that build the transit network.
The program has allocated funding to Toronto, based on ridership figures. Under the terms of the program, both the provincial and federal governments must approve any projects that the City submits before Toronto can receive the funding.
In the report, staff explain that the city is well positioned to use this funding opportunity for projects that address a key City and TTC priority: ensuring the safety and reliability of the TTC system. Staff are now recommending priorities for the City's federal funding allocation under the program. According to City staff, "This is a critical moment to build transit, and to leverage the investment to date in planning, design and engineering work to achieve that objective.
City Council has already prioritized a total of $1.245 billion in federal funding:
- $0.660 billion to the Line 2 east extension project (Council approved this in 2013); and
- $0.585 billion to the SmartTrack stations program (Council approved this in 2018).
The single-stop Line 2 east extension would replace the Line 3 Scarborough rapid-transit line that has been serving passengers for more than 30 years. Although the project addresses broader city-building objectives, it's also critical for replacing an asset at the end of its useful life. The SmartTrack stations program leverages the provincial investment in expanding the GO Transit rail network to address both growth and city-building objectives and helps provide more transit choices to travel to and from downtown Toronto.
Staff now are recommending that council confirm the Relief Line south subway and a project to redesign Bloor-Yonge station to improve its capacity as its other priority projects for the remaining $3.651 billion of the City's federal funding allocation. Specifically:
- $3.151 billion in federal funding for the Relief Line south; and
- $0.500 billion in federal funding for the Bloor-Yonge capacity improvement project.
Today, Line 1 has an average daily weekday ridership of more than 730,000 riders, making it one of the busiest rapid-transit lines in North America. The Relief Line south and Bloor-Yonge capacity-improvement project are critical to reducing overcrowding and congestion on the Line 1 subway and are necessary to making sure the system can safely accommodate future network demand as a result of population growth and expansion.
Staff have based recommendations for allocating federal funding on the urgent need to address Line 1 capacity and safety as a first priority. Advancing projects that are procurement- and construction-ready, they say, is also an important consideration to use by leveraging currently resourced project teams to continue momentum in building transit.
Also, staff contend, to take advantage of future intergovernmental funding opportunities, the city must continue to advance projects through the early planning and design phases of the project life cycle so that they're "shovel-ready". The waterfront transit network and Eglinton light tail transit extension projects support the City's long-term city building objectives as outlined in the Toronto Official Plan.
Staff are consequently making other recommendations about key transit "city-building" projects, including:
- Advancing the preliminary design and engineering phase of the streetcar loop option for the Union Station-to-Queens Quay link and East Bayfront light rail transit, an important component of the waterfront transit network; and
- Asking Metrolinx to partner with the city to develop a plan to undertake preliminary design and engineering for two phases of the Eglinton East LRT; in phase 1 from Kennedy Station to the University of Toronto's Scarborough campus and, in phase 2, to Malvern Town Centre.
The City has released its report one week after the Ontario government under Premier Ford outlined a different set of transit priorities for Toronto, as part of ongoing discussions about a provincial upload of the city’s subway system.
Letters to City Council from provincial officials have proposed an unknown alternative transportation technology for the future Relief Line and adding two more stops to the Line 2 extension, and also an earlier start for extending Line 1 to Richmond Hill.
The provincial government also urges building the western leg of the Eglinton Crosstown underground, to reduce traffic congestion on that part of Eglinton Avenue West. The City prefers a surface LRT for that area, but has not included its final recommendations in this report. City staff will wait for Metrolinx and the Greater Toronto Airports Authority to review a further extension to Toronto Pearson International Airport, before finalizing their conclusions on the shape of this line.
The Executive Committee will consider the staff's report during its meeting Tuesday, April 9. City Council will review—amend or adopt and approve—the staff recommendations Tuesday, April 16 and Wednesday, April 17.
We will continue to update you as plans unfold. What do you think of the various proposals? You can comment in the form below, or join the discussion on our Forum.