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Subway 401

Commuter Corner
Joseph Hall

WHAT IS THE greatest transportation need of Greater Toronto?

Is it an east-west rapid transit link from Mississauga to Pickering, running somewhere between Highway 401 and Steeles Ave.?

How about joining the University-Spadina subway line with the Yonge line in one sprawling loop along Steeles or Highway 7? Or do we build a grid of highways connecting the major cities and towns?

A group called Environmentalists Plan Transportation thinks a rapid transit line across the middle of the GTA is the answer. Such a subway would move 100 million passengers a year between Pickering and Mississauga, as well as service the airport.

Currently, GO Transit moves people primarily between downtown Toronto and areas outside the city. The TTC shuttles a massive number of passengers all over the core of Toronto. But try to get from Mississauga to Markham and points east, or the other way, and the car is the only answer.

What’s needed is an east-west transit route that goes a long distance, carries a lot of people, is fast and comfortable and provides a viable alternative to the car.

Some say the best route would be along the new toll road Highway 407. But it might be too far north to relieve the current needs, or those anticipated for the next 30 years. The 407 corridor must be preserved for future rapid transit. Until then, dedicated bus lanes are the answer there.

However, further south, the demand is clear and present. Some 40,000 workers labour in the airport area; the GTA’s two largest cities (Toronto and Mississauga) with more than three million people, and growing, can anchor the line; and maybe another 500,000 travelers outside Mississauga and Toronto live within a short bus ride of one of the many stops along such a subway.

A cross-town subway would link the Yonge St. and the Spadina subway lines, plus several GO stations, and would be a more useful link to Pearson International than a direct link from Union Station.

EPT’s analysis suggests the least expensive route would be a surface line along Highway 401, about 53 kilometres from Pickering to Hurontario St. in Mississauga.

Going east to west, the 401 rapid transit line, or 401 RT, would veer north to align with the Sheppard subway, then back south to Highway 401, then Highway 409, tunnel under the airport and out to Hurontario St. (Highway 10).

With stations two kilometres apart, it would take 75 minutes to travel the entire line, or 35 to 40 minutes from either end to Yonge St. Cost: $4 billion.

This would wipe out a lane each way from the 401 - a controversial idea, no doubt. But if the lane is so precious, add another $1 billion and elevate the subway above the 401. Or tunnel all the way for a total cost of $7 billion.

If that price tag isn’t a stumbling block, EPT recommends extending the new Sheppard subway east and west.

A route along the hydro corridor north of Finch might be slightly cheaper than Sheppard, but the ridership potential and development potential is significantly less.

The concept seems fantastical when the federal and provincial governments contribute nothing to public transit. But governments change. Crises happen that force them to address issues long ignored. Transit’s day will come.

The Greater Toronto Services Board will consider a region-wide transportation plan later this month. By September it hopes to make some decisions on the region’s needs.

In crafting such a plan, area politicians should give the 401 RT serious consideration.