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GO Transit plan jolts residents

Huge rail overpass in west-central area would carve strip out of many backyards

Globe and Mail, Saturday, September 20, 2003

STEPHEN WICKENS

Residents of some west-central Toronto neighbourhoods are on a collision course with GO Transit if plans are approved for a huge project involving construction of an elevated railway bridge.

A report produced for GO Transit — that has not been made public — calls for a bridge of up to two kilometres in length and the expropriation of property to make room for additional and reconfigured track from Wallace Avenue (north of Bloor Street) to Innes Avenue (south of Rogers Road)

The project would form part of a plan to bring all-day GO service to towns north of the city.

The Bradford Corridor Planning Study Final Report, dated March of 2002, came to light at an Ontario Municipal Board prehearing session last week. The Globe and Mail had an opportunity to examine the document after it was turned over to representatives of a developer who is appealing the city’s rejection of plans to construct residential buildings near the tracks, south of Dupont Street.

Residents of the affected neighbourhoods expressed shock about the existence of the plans.

“Nobody consulted us, but that’s the way these guys work,” said Carey Rookwod of Prescott Avenue, before going to get a neighbour to view a copy of plans that would carve a strip out of their back yards.

Neither of the city councillors who represent the affected areas is familiar with the plans either.

“I heard about a report, but I never saw anything,” Ward 17 Councillor Fred Dominelli said.

Ward 18 Councillor Mario Silva said he has heard nothing about the existence of such a report or any talk about a railway bridge or expropriation. “I’m supportive of GO Transit, but this sounds outrageous. I’ll be asking the city planners what they know.”

GO Transit managing director Gary McNeil denies there has been any attempt to suppress the report. “I’m not sure if this report has been made, quote, public. It’s more a study of how you can physically get to all-day service in the corridor, so if we get infrastructure money to build some of this stuff we know roughly the money we’re looking at for what we’re required to do. It’s probably a crossing that’s in the 15- to 20-year time frame. There’s no need to get people’s concern up when it might not even happen.”

Mr. Rookwod expressed concern about noise. “High-speed trains right in my back yard — that’s going to be loud,” he said.

Some barely finished townhomes on Rankin Crescent and a 10-metre-wide strip of the Campbell Avenue Playground are recommended for expropriation — prompting an Antler Street resident, who would give his name only as Mike, to say, “This neighbourhood has changed a lot since the Holly Jones murder. These guys sound like they want to pick a fight with the wrong people.”

The plan recommends expropriations and a bridge near Steeles Avenue and in York Region as well as in the west-central area. The big problem in the inner city is a railway-level crossing near Dupont Street that reduces capacity and forces trains to slow on both the north-south Canadian National and east-west Canadian Pacific tracks.

Delcan Corp., an international engineering and consulting firm that produced the report, lists two options for the elevation of the north-south tracks used by GO trains, but acknowledges in one case that “the height and length of the structure will be a significant visual intrusion for approximately two kilometres [beginning south of Bloor].”

The other elevated option calls for a shorter, steeper bridge that would “significantly increase locomotive noise,” according to a transit planner and engineer who viewed the documents at The Globe’s request.

The Delcan report also lists two options involving tunnels but says each appears impractical.

“They want to tear down the Gardiner Expressway in one part of town, and put up essentially the same thing up here,” said Ted Davidson, a consultant for Ridgevest Developments Ltd., the appellant in the OMB case. “You don’t think they would try to ram something like this through in a wealthier neighbourhood, do you?”

Mr. McNeil, of GO Transit, called the Gardiner comparison unfair. “It’s like a scare tactic,” he said. “This would be the width of a two-lane road. There are lots of things we can do — we can put in pedestrian connections.”

Lawyer Alan Heisey, who represents GO Transit and CN in the OMB case, cautioned last week that the GO expansion might not happen for several years. “The planning horizon is 30 years,” he said. “The important thing is that we protect the rail corridors for the public good. It’s part of the city’s official plan.”




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