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Group fights link that divides

Airport rail line would block off Weston streets

Residents say move threatens their community


It’s not as trendy as Queen. St. W., or the Beach, or Bloor West Village, but Weston has its own “downtown.”

The stretch of Weston Rd. between Lawrence Ave. W. and Oak St. is lined with mom-and-pop shops, restaurants and taverns, catering to its working-class community.

The folks here like their neighbourhood and turned out en masse Wednesday night to protect it: 1,000 people trying to squeeze into a room built for 450. For safety reasons, the meeting was cancelled. It will be rescheduled at a larger venue.

At that time, even more are expected to rail against the idea that some of their cross streets might be blocked off to accommodate a rail link between Union Station and Pearson International Airport, to run along the expansion of the Georgetown GO Transit line.

When the air-rail link is added to the Georgetown expansion, it would increase the number of trains to the point at which Transport Canada regulations forbid level crossings — and there are three in Weston, on Church, King and John Sts. All three crossings would have to be blocked.

Residents fear that would strangle the old town’s already struggling downtown.

“It’s just not right,” said long-time resident Leroy Hynes. “You don’t want the community divided like this by a major train line.

“It’s bad enough the tracks are there at all. If they’re going to try and eliminate any foot access, car access, or seniors able to walk to downtown, it’s going to wipe out downtown.”

GO Transit officials were caught by surprise at the turnout. A meeting on the same subject the previous night in downtown Toronto drew about 50 people.

“In general, nobody wants to have any kind of change at all,” said GO chairman Gordon Chong. “I’m not surprised they don’t want to have a road closed. … We clearly are sensitive to people’s concerns.”

It’s expected to cost $45 million to design and construct the necessary upgrades on the Georgetown corridor, money GO Transit has been promised by both levels of government.

GO says closing the cross streets would be by far the cheapest answer, but it’s only one of several options, which include building either underpasses or overpasses. Those would cost at least $10 million extra per crossing.

That answer doesn’t satisfy area residents.

“Any project that’s big with this much money and this much engineering, they have to consider their options,” said Mary Louise Ashbourne, who got the word out to area residents.

“But the option of closing the level crossings in Weston is not an option. It is a non-starter. It will not fly.”

This “town” nestled in a triangle formed by Jane St. and the Humber River, south of Highway 401, recently won another struggle against outsiders when it fought to hang on to street names that are identical to street names elsewhere in Toronto. In the 1970s, residents saved their 1914 public library and many are restoring their post-Victorian homes.

Now they’re taking on the railway to make sure the west side of their community isn’t cut off from the east, so kids on one side of the tracks can walk to school on the other, families can walk to their churches and shoppers can get to the shops.

“We have a very strong community here and we are not prepared to have it sacrificed for the sake of a link to the airport,” Ashbourne said.

“If (GO) will accept the fact that closing roads is no longer to be considered an option, then they can get on considering the real options, and be creative.”

The problem of what to do in Weston is one of a number faced by GO Transit officials, not the least of which is a challenge to the validity of the environmental assessment.

Although the corridor is owned by CN, GO is conducting an environmental assessment (due to end in September), because improvements to the rail corridor will allow GO to improve service to Georgetown.

But the owner of the proposed Blue-22 airport link — SNC Lavalin — is also a consultant on the environmental assessment.

In a submission that GO’s board of directors will consider today, resident Mike Sullivan says that means SNC Lavalin is in a conflict of interest.

“If there were no air-rail link and only increased service by GO Transit, the level crossings would remain,” Sullivan wrote the board. He wants the two projects assessed separately.

Weston is not the only dilemma facing the project.

In the Junction neighbourhood centred on St. Clair Ave. W. and Keele St., residents are angry that an underpass being considered will be too short.

GO proposes building an underpass for the north-south CN corridor where it intersects with CP Rail’s east-west line. That underpass would emerge south of St. Clair Ave W., right at the point that the road narrows from six to four lanes.

That neighbourhood, which has been fighting the TTC over its proposal to put streetcars in a transit-only lane down the centre of St. Clair, sees an opportunity.

They want the underpass to be longer — stretching underneath St. Clair — and emerging on the north side. This would allow the road to be widened, ending the bottleneck.

The idea seems to be gaining traction; Junction resident Claude Bergeron said he had a positive meeting with GO chairman Gordon Chong. The city and the province are believed to be looking at the option.

“It sounds encouraging,” Bergeron said.

The problem is money. An extended underpass would cost at least $50 million, and GO would either look to the city, the province or Ottawa to pay for it.

“If we can accommodate suggestions coming from the community and get funding to do it, then we’re more than happy to do that,” Chong said.

These issues come at a very dicey time for GO. Today GO’s directors will formalize the beginning of negotiations with the federal government that they hope will result in Ottawa paying for a large portion of the $113.5 million needed to purchase 53 new locomotives and $274.3 million to buy 90 new rail coaches.