Provincial transit agency Metrolinx has approved a business case for extending the Crosstown LRT line west of its initial terminal of Mount Dennis Station to Toronto Pearson International Airport. And, much of the extended LRT will be underground.

How the Eglinton West LRT extension fits into a regional context, image, Metrolinx

Similar to the plan to extend the Toronto Transit Commission's Line 2 Bloor-Danforth subway further into Scarborough, the project has a long and convoluted history.

  • 1972: Eglinton corridor is part of the Government of Ontario / TTC "Intermediate Capacity Transit System" (ICTS) network plan.

  • 1985: The TTC's Network 2011 report identifies Eglinton West as a busway corridor as part of Metro Toronto’s rapid transit network plan.

  • 2007: The Crosstown LRT between Pearson and Kennedy is part of the City of Toronto’s Transit City plan.

  • 2010: City of Toronto seeks environmental-assessment approval for surface LRT alignment, one year after the City approved the full-length Crosstown alignment.

  • 2012: Metrolinx undertook Crosstown LRT construction, deferring the Mount Dennis-to-Pearson segment due to funding constraints.

  • 2016: City of Toronto and Metrolinx co-publish Eglinton West LRT’s first initial business case and recommend surface LRT option. The City approves funding for preliminary planning and design works.

  • 2017: City of Toronto approves arterial and mid-block stops along Eglinton Avenue West and conducts grade separation study to address community concerns.

  • 2019: City of Toronto maintains its preference for surface LRT option based on fine-tuned benefit-cost analysis.

As a sidebar to this history, it's worth remembering a proposal for an east–west subway line between the TTC's Eglinton West station and Black Creek Drive. Ontario's then-Premier Bob Rae and other officials broke ground on the project in a ceremony in 1994. However, in 1995, the newly elected Government of Ontario under Premier Mike Harris cancelled the project and later filled in the excavation near Eglinton West Station.

Also, in 2014, when Mayor John Tory was merely mayoral candidate Tory, a chief plank of his campaign platform was a proposal for above-ground rapid transit service mostly along two GO Transit rail corridors through the city. One component of the plan would have resulted in heavy-rail trains operating along Eglinton Avenue West from Mount Dennis at the end of the Crosstown LRT line to the Airport Corporate Centre in Mississauga, and, possibly, Toronto Pearson International Airport.

Candidate John Tory's original SmartTrack plan, image John Tory campaign

Unlike the preliminary business case for the Line 2 "Scarborough Subway extension", the business case for the Eglinton West LRT examines several options for the line east of Renforth Station of the Mississauga Transitway. Throughout the business case document, Metrolinx refers to this section, between Renforth and Mount Dennis, as "the Toronto Segment".

  • Option 1 serves all arterial and many mid-block stops on Eglinton Avenue West through an at-grade alignment;
  • Option 2 serves similar stops as Option 1, but underground;
  • Option 3 serves only two arterial stops on Eglinton Avenue West through a mostly below-grade alignment and a short above-grade section across the Humber River ravine; and
  • Option 4 serves all arterial stops on Toronto’s Eglinton Avenue West along the same alignment as Option 3.

Metrolinx is recommending Option 4 as its preferred plan, conforming to the largely underground plan that Premier Doug Ford announced last year.

Metrolinx has split the project into two segments, image, Metrolinx

The Airport Segment

Metrolinx has included a connection between Renforth Station and the airport in all options to understand the demand for travel to and from Pearson. Metrolinx calls this part of the future line "the Airport Segment". Plans for the Airport Segment remain consistent through all options for the Toronto Segment. Plans for the Airport Segment include:

  • On-street LRT along Commerce Boulevard between Renforth Station and just south of Highway 401;
  • A bridge carrying the LRT across Highway 401 and then over an elevated structure between the bridge and Convair Drive near the Greater Toronto Airport Authority offices – this part of the line would also include an elevated station, Convair.
  • On-street LRT to Silver Dart Drive, where Silver Dart station would stand.
  • Metrolinx has not finalized the route for the final section of the line, which would connect with a future Pearson Transit Hub.

The Greater Toronto Airports Authority has already committed as much as $78 million to work with Metrolinx to study and plan the LRT extension and its connection to the airport.

The Toronto Segment

The business case evaluates the performance of all four options for the Toronto Segment and compares to a "Business as Usual" scenario.

The Business as Usual scenario assumes that local TTC and MiWay buses would continue to operate along the corridor with service headways of five minutes or better. The LRT would not extend between Renforth and Mount Dennis stations or to the airport.

The "Business as Usual" scenario, image, Metrolinx

Option 1: At-grade with nine stops

With this option, the line would operate along the road median with nine stops at key arterial and mid-block intersections. A tunnel-to-surface portal west of Weston Road would tie the extension to the rest of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT. With a total of 13 new LRT stops along the entire Pearson-Mount Dennis corridor, this option fully adheres to alignment already approved in the City of Toronto's environmental assessment for the project. While parallel-running TTC buses along Eglinton West would no longer be necessary, MiWay would likely continue to serve Pearson via Highway 427.

With Option 1, LRT trains would mostly operate on the street, making nine stops, image, Metrolinx

Option 2: Below-grade with nine stops

The line would serve the same number of stops as Option 1, but instead of being at-grade, it would extend underground between Mount Dennis and just east of Renforth. It would emerge from a tunnel portal and then operate above-ground to Renforth. The City and Metrolinx developed this alternative to reconcile the need for extended rapid transit access with the community’s preference for underground transit. Like Option 1, parallel TTC service would end and MiWay service to and from Pearson would continue.

Options 1 and 2 stations

  • Jane;
  • Scarlett;
  • Royal York;
  • Mulham;
  • Islington;
  • Wincott / Bemersyde;
  • Kipling;
  • Widdicome Hill / Lloyd Manor; and
  • Martin Grove.

With Option 2, LRT trains would mostly operate underground, making nine stops, image, Metrolinx

Option 3: Mostly below-grade with two stops

The LRT would be grade-separated between Mount Dennis and just east of Renforth. The line would operate on the surface to Weston Road. An elevated structure would carry the line from west of Weston across the Humber River to west of Scarlett Road. This portion would include an elevated station at Jane Street. The line would enter then plunge underground, not emerging until east of Renforth. This portion would require an underground station at Kipling Avenue. It would then operate above-ground to Renforth. This alignment would require two tunnel-to-elevated portals west of Scarlett and east of Jane, and one tunnel-to-surface portal east of Renforth. Parallel TTC buses would continue to serve the gaps in the LRT’s coverage along Eglinton Avenue West with less frequency than today. MiWay buses would continue to serve Pearson Airport.

Option 3 stations

  • Jane; and
  • Kipling.

Option 3 is an express underground LRT, with just two stops, image, Metrolinx

Option 4: Mostly below-grade with six stops

The LRT would be grade-separated between Mount Dennis and Renforth. The line would operate in a tunnel on either side of Weston Road. An elevated structure would carry the line from west of Weston across the Humber River to west of Scarlett Road. This portion would include two elevated stations at Jane and Scarlett. The line would then continue underground with four more stations, reflecting input from the local community. It would then rise to the surface for Renforth station. Like Option 3, parallel TTC buses would continue to serve the gaps in the LRT service along Eglinton Avenue West, but with a large increase in headways due to higher LRT service coverage under Option 4. MiWay buses would continue to serve Pearson Airport.

Option 4 stations

  • Jane;
  • Scarlett;
  • Royal York;
  • Islington;
  • Kipling; and
  • Martin Grove.

Metrolinx has approved Option 4, underground through Etobicoke with six stops, image, Metrolinx

Comparing the four options

The business case identifies the strategic outcomes of the four options for the Toronto Segment as they relate to Metrolinx' 2041 Regional Transportation Plan goals.

According to the document, Option 4 presents the best trade-off between the ease of local access and the speed of travelling, outperforms all other options in offering the best network connectivity and improving travel experience and still supports livable and sustainable communities along the corridor.

High-level summary, comparing the four options, image, Metrolinx

Options 1 and 2, with both arterial and mid-block connections, provide the best outcomes for livable and sustainable communities, but their slower travel speed results in less network connectivity and poorer corridor travel experience improvements (particularly for surface-running Option 1).

Option 3’s wider spacing between stations results in the fastest journey time between midtown Toronto and Downtown Mississauga, but it skips important arterial bus connections and so trails Options 2 and 4 in network connectivity and corridor travel experience and offers the least support for livable and sustainable communities.

Each of the four options would improve access to employment, image, Metrolinx

According to Metrolinx, better connecting transit to employment opportunities is a key factor to capture new transit riders and providing ongoing benefits to current riders. The LRT extension results in higher ridership and better transit access to jobs for residents and businesses along the corridor. Option 1 yields the highest number of riders with 42,500 weekday boardings; Option 2 attracts 36,500 boardings; Option 3 23,000; and Option 4, 37,000. The route alternatives would improve transit access in 45 minutes to GTHA jobs for local communities: by four percent more with Option 1; 11 percent more with Option 2; 14 percent with Option 3; and 18 percent with Option 4.

Using Monday-to-Friday morning rush-hour travel time savings to measure regional transit accessibility, the business case authors claim that Option 1 would save 62,000 person-minutes less travel for all trips in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA); Option 2 would save 112,000 person-minutes; Option 3 94,000; and Option 4 142,000.

Comparing travel times for the four options, image, Metrolinx

Each option would save trip times for passengers travelling between the intersection of Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue in Toronto and Square One in Mississauga. Option 1 saves five minutes of travel time; Option 2 11 minutes; Option 3 18 minutes and; Option 4 14 minutes.

The business case examines how Etobicoke-based and Etobicoke-bound Line 2 subway users also benefit from the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension project. It determines that a substantial share of southbound Etobicoke bus riders and Eglinton Avenue West-bound bus riders (who would normally transfer to and from Line 2’s Kipling, Islington, Royal York and Jane Stations during the morning rush hours under the BAU scenario) will shift to the LRT, bypassing buses between Eglinton and Bloor and the subway between Kipling and Jane altogether.

The Eglinton West LRT would become a major transit spine for Etobicoke, image, Metrolinx

All options improve service reliability when compared with the BAU scenario, thanks to a dedicated right-of-way that buses don't have. Options 2, 3 and 4 offer a much more significantly reliable service due to the full grade separation for the Toronto Segment, although surface-running Option 1 still benefits from transit-signal priority measures at traffic intersections. Option 1 is the most accessible as compared to other grade-separated options, which feature elevated guideways and tunnels that require stations to be built further from the surface. Option 2 is the least desirable in terms of station access and exit times as it features the most underground stations, which will likely require additional access times as compared to elevated stations.

However, Options 2, 3 and 4 feature mostly grade-separated stations that afford the highest level of protection against severe weather conditions. The greater service reliability that these options offer, the report's authors contend, is ultimately the most important contributing factor towards creating a more positive travel experience for transit users.

All options provide significant economic benefits that largely result from the transit-user benefits, but higher economic costs mean benefit-cost ratio of less than 1.0 for all of the options. Although Option 4 requires significant capital cost to implement, as compared to Option 1, its user benefits in travel-time savings are more than double than that of Option 1.

Comparing the financial case for the four options, image, Metrolinx

Through the business case, Metrolinx has determined that Option 1 would provide $891 million in benefits, Option 2 $1,370 million; Option 3 $1,266 million; and Option 4 $1,669 million. At the same time each line has costs to build: Option 1 $3,505 million; Option 2 $5,867 million; Option 3 $4,168 million; and Option 4 $4,916 million. These figures result in a benefit-cost ratio of 0.25, 0.23, 0.30 and 0.34 respectively.

Summarizing the deliverability and operations case evaluation, the business case report concludes that Option 1 is the best option for fewer construction progress delays and cost overrun risks. Option 2 has the least operational risk, but requires very complicated project planning and engineering risk. Option 3 carries minimal operational risk, but slightly complicated project planning and engineering risks. Option 4 earns minimal operational risk, but complicated project planning and engineering risks.

The Metrolinx board approved the business case during its meeting in January, 2020, but did not release the document publicly until late February.

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ED NOTE: The timeline and sidebar section at the beginning of this article has been amended to clarify two more pieces of Eglinton Avenue West's transit history.

Related Companies:  IBI Group, Urban Strategies Inc.