The Government of Ontario is apparently moving ahead aggressively with its plan to extend the TTC's Line 2 Bloor-Danforth subway more deeply into Scarborough—even though the extended line will not be open to passengers at least two years later than the previous, City of Toronto plan. Since Ontario Premier Doug Ford first announced the plan, just less than a year ago, the City has approved the plan, and the Province and City have formally signed an agreement to sort out funding and other matters. Late last month, Metrolinx released an astounding preliminary business case to examine the benefits of the line. And, just last week, two provincial agencies, Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario announced a Request For Proposals (RFP) for contractors to tunnel for the future line.

Map of the Ontario proposal to extend Line 2--the "Scarborough subway extension", image, Metrolinx

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Why is the preliminary business case astounding? To explain that, we first have to detail a lot of history.

For more than forty years, the City of Toronto, the Province of Ontario and their agencies have struggled with proposals to connect the Scarborough Town Centre area with the TTC's Line 2 Bloor – Danforth subway.

For example:

  • In the 1970s, the TTC proposed operating "high-speed streetcars" – in other words, a light-rail transit line -- along a private right-of-way between the area of today's Malvern Town Centre [mall] and Kennedy Station. The LRT line would have been the first leg of a network of similar lines stretching across suburban Metro Toronto.

1975 map of the proposed high-speed streetcar link, image Toronto Star via Transit Toronto

  • Meanwhile, the Ontario government started investing in experimental transit technology that it hoped it could apply to Toronto and other cities. First, it considered developing a system of trains that used magnetic-levitation (or "maglev") technology. It later started focusing on smaller, "intermediate-capacity transit system" (ICTS) trains, with smaller cars, using linear induction motors. The motors used magnets inside the trucks of each car that pulled the trains along the tracks.
  • In June 1983, the Ontario government intervened to require the TTC to use ICTS trains on the line. By then, Ontario had already successfully sold ICTS systems to Detroit and Vancouver. Metropolitan Toronto agreed to use this "most advanced urban transit technology in the world" for a separate line between McCowan Road and Kennedy – the TTC's Line 3 Scarborough rapid transit line. The line opened to passengers March 22, 1985.
  • Ontario proposed extending the line further noprtheast to Sheppard Avenue East and Milner Avenue, using the same ICTS system, as part of its larger "Let's Move" program of extending rapid transit throughout Toronto in 1992.

1992 plans for a station near Markham Road and Progress Avenue on the ICTS extension, image, Transit Toronto

  • In 2006, Toronto under Mayor David Miller proposed the Transit City network of LRT lines, including one that would replace the current technology on Line 3 and extend it to the area of Centennial College's Progress campus and, eventually, to Malvern.
  • As one of his first acts in office, Miller's replacement as Mayor, Rob Ford, scrapped the Transit City scheme, except for an LRT under Eglinton Avenue in 2010. Acknowledging the aging Line 3 would soon need replacement, Toronto agreed to extend its Eglinton LRT plan along the Line 3 right-of-way to Scarborough Centre.
  • In 2013, City Council voted to replace the seven-stop LRT with a three-stop subway to and from Sheppard Avenue East and McCowan Road.
  • Then, in January 2016, the City changed its mind, supporting a cheaper one-stop express subway--and only to Scarborough Centre. The goal was to use the money the City saved by building a less ambitious subway plan to develop other transit projects in Scarborough, including an eastward extension of the Eglinton LRT to the University of Toronto's Scarborough campus.

Map of the 2016 plan for a one-stop express subway, image, City of Toronto

The debate over the various routes and vehicle types has been frequently contentious. When the City approved the one-stop express subway in 2016, UrbanToronto reported, "The new(est) plan comes as a compromise on one of the City's most contentious issues in recent years, ending what [Mayor] John Tory called 'a civil war' over transit in Scarborough. Council voted against the proposed, fully-funded 7-stop LRT in favour of a three-stop subway extension in 2013. The new plan was opposed by many. Population densities along the corridor are likely too low to justify subway infrastructure, while the closer spacing of LRT stops could allow for more residents to be served by the new transit, making the proposed subway highly contentious."

When Council debated whether to approve the final subway plan in March 2017, we explained, "Although Council was considering a City staff report that contained a number of contentious issues—including a recommendation to use private-sector resources to help finance and build the line—councillors mostly focused, instead, on the age-old question of whether to build a new subway or a light rail transit line."

So with so much controversy surrounding the transit line and with multiple alternatives available for routes and technologies to connect the Scarborough Centre area with Kennedy Station, transit observers expected that the Metrolinx preliminary business case for the Line 2 would offer a detailed analysis of the various options and finally, possibly, put controversy about Scarborough transit to bed.

Instead, the business compares the Ontario proposal for extending line 2 with... nothing.

The "business as usual" scenario, excludes Line 3, but includes an extension to Line 4, image, Metrolinx

It pretends that the TTC's Line 3 does not operate. It pretends that proposals for a one-stop express subway or a seven-stop LRT have not emerged. It examines the merits of the three-stop subway extension and an imaginary situation where only buses operate between Scarborough Centre and Kennedy Station. This is problematic because any rapid transit line would naturally measure better than any scenario without such a line.

It also includes an extension to Line 4 Sheppard, which, technically, isn't even an official project (yet).

Local transit analyst and critic Steve Munro reacts to this situation more eloquently (and bluntly) than we can in his recent post, "A Preliminary Snow Job on the Scarborough Subway Extension". He writes:

"The Government of Ontario has been responsible for a lot of hot air over the years, and that applies to all three political parties. But their agencies Infrastructure Ontario and Metrolinx have come up with the biggest pile of crap I have seen in a very long time going back to [former Premier] Bill Davis and the flim-flam surrounding his failed maglev train project.

"The Scarborough Subway Extension Preliminary Design Business Case is a classic attempt to support a bad project by cooking the books outrageously and hoping nobody will notice. Even with their sleight-of-hand, Metrolinx cannot make the SSE look good as a business proposition. It fails not by a small amount that could be 'adjusted' out of the way, but by a country mile."

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So, what's in this business case? Metrolinx starts off by stating, "This Preliminary Design Business Case evaluates the performance of the Scarborough Subway Extension (SSE) as currently contemplated against a Business as Usual (BAU) scenario as the basis for an investment decision... It is noted that the BAU option does not include the existing TTC Line 3 Scarborough (also known as Scarborough Rapid Transit (SRT)). In the BAU, improvements to the existing surface transit network to accommodate the decommissioning of the SRT have been included in the scenario [provided by the TTC]."

It continues, "A Business Case is a comprehensive collection of evidence and analysis that sets out the rationale for why an investment should be implemented to solve a problem or address an opportunity. Business cases are required by Metrolinx’s Capital Projects Approval Policy for all capital infrastructure investments."

Details about the route, its stations and its connections to other transit, image, Metrolinx

The study concludes that building the subway extension would generate $2.7 billion worth of economic benefits. More than 105,000 passengers would board trains daily at the new subway stations. It estimates that 34,000 jobs are within a 10-minute walk of the new line and that it would attract 12,000 new transit riders Mondays to Fridays during morning rush hours. The extension would save TTC passengers 575,000 person-minutes in transit travel time savings daily, when compared to BAU. It would decrease vehicle-kilometres travelled by 30,000 kilometres during rush hours, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 10,000 tonnes annually.

Although the extension would produce total economic benefits of $2.8 billion, the total cost of the project is $5.5 to $6.0 billion, resulting in a benefit-cost ratio of 0.60 to 0.66.

The business case also includes the costs of extending the life of Line 3 until 2029 and, subsequently, the cost to demolish it. It assumes that the line would continue to operate during construction of the extension and that it would be closed and decomissioned after the extension opens.

The business case describes three new stations:

  • at Sheppard Avenue East and McCowan Road;
  • at Scarborough Centre; and
  • at Lawrence Avenue East and McCowan.

The plan also slates large bus terminals for the stations at Sheppard / McCowan and Scarborough Centre.

The station on Sheppard Avenue East at McCowan Road, includes:

  • An off-street centre-platform terminal station, north of Sheppard Avenue East, east of McCowan Road; (two auto dealerships, both with large parking lots, currently occupy this site.);
  • A 19-bay TTC bus terminal on northeast quadrant of Sheppard Avenue East and McCowan Road intersection, above tunnel/station;
  • Taxi and accessible passenger pick-up and drop-off spaces; 
  • Space for connection with future Line 4 extension and future passenger transfer between Line 4 and Line 2.

The station at Scarborough Centre includes:

  • Side platforms, below McCowan Road under the northbound lanes north of Triton Road / Bushby Avenue. (The earlier one-stop subway plan assumed a station further west on Triton Road, closer to Scarborough Town Centre mall;
  • 16-bay TTC bus terminal;
  • Seven-bay GO Transit bus terminal, including one bay for Durham Region Transit (DRT);
  • Taxi and accessible passenger pick-up and drop-off spaces;
  • Primary entrance on McCowan Road; secondary entrances to be determined.

This high-level summary outlines benefits of the extension. BAU refers to "business as usual", image, Metrolinx

The station on Lawrence Avenue East at McCowan Road includes:

  • Side platforms, straddling Lawrence Avenue East;
  • Four-bay bus terminal on southwest quadrant of Lawrence Ave East and McCowan Road intersection (a gas station currently occupies this property.);
  • No passenger pick-up and drop-off or commuter parking;
  • Short-turn loop on Hydro One corridor for the 54 Lawrence East bus route;
  • Entrances on northwest and southwest quadrants of the intersection;
  • The entrance on the southwest quadrant would serve walk-in passengers and passengers transferring from eastbound buses;
  • The entrance on the northwest quadrant would serve walk-in passengers and passengers transferring from westbound buses. It would also provide convenient access to Scarborough General Hospital.

At Kennedy Station, a section of track extends about 550 metres from the east side of the GO Transit Stouffville rail corridor to Commonwealth Avenue. This section includes special track work and a "pocket track" to enable every second subway train to short turn at Kennedy, Metrolinx says, "to suit ridership demand and minimize fleet requirements, as well as lower operating costs."

The subway would use a single-bore tunnel. The constructors would build shafts to launch a tunnel-boring machine (TBM) at two sites; one near Kennedy Station and another near the terminal station on Sheppard. They would also locate an extraction shaft for both TBMs at Lawrence Avenue East and McCowan Road station. They would use "cut-and-cover" construction east of Kennedy Station to Midland Avenue.

The business case explains that the extended subway would improve travel times for Scarborough commuters – but this analysis is flawed, because it compares those travel times with the imaginary bus-only scenario. It doesn't consider travel times for any other form of rapid transit that transit agencies have proposed or the current Line 3. Nevertheless, the business case estimates that passengers would save ten minutes to travel between Scarborough Town Centre and the midtown Toronto intersection of Bloor and Yonge Streets. (However this travel-time estimate also includes a longer walk in Scarborough.)

The business case also offers another travel-time estimate – between the Scarborough and St George campuses of the University of Toronto. In this case, passengers could enjoy a trip that's seven minutes shorter – but they would still have to ride a long way on a bus before they arrive at a subway station in Scarborough.

The subway extension would likely reduce travel times, image, Metrolinx

The business case contends that the extended subway line will further improve service to area passengers by connecting to other transit lines, include GO Transit's Stouffville line and the Crosstown LRT at Kennedy Station, and a possible extension to the TTC's Line 4 Sheppard.

According to a news article in the Globe and Mail by Oliver Moore, "The Metrolinx board received [the report] at an in-camera meeting in January and, at the time, quietly approved pushing ahead with the [project]." However, the transit agency did not release the report until late February.

What do you think of the project? You can add your comments in the form below, or join the discussion on our Forum.

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