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St. Clair streetcar project gets ministry green light

The Ministry of the Environment has formally approved the city’s plan to reconstruct St. Clair Ave. W. so that streetcars can run down the centre unobstructed by cars.

“This is a very, very, very, very positive step for the city’s official plan,” Rod McPhail, director of transportation planning for the city of Toronto, said after the announcement yesterday.

“It’s got to be about transit for the city to grow. We can’t continue to grow by everybody driving a car. It’s not good for our health.”

Opponents had hoped that Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky would force the city to do a more indepth environmental assessment. They argued the changes to their street would transform the neighbourhood too radically and hurt business.

Dombrowsky ruled the city more than fulfilled its assessment requirements, pointing out the city held 55 open houses over St. Clair when the process required it to hold only three.

“The project will enhance road accessibility, create a safer environment and will provide for better transit service,” said Dombrowsky spokesman John Steele.

The $65 million St. Clair project is dear to the TTC, eager to get as many of its buses and streetcars out of mixed traffic as possible. Under the plan, about six kilometres of St. Clair from Yonge St. to Keele will be reconstructed to allow streetcars to run down the centre of the road, in their own lanes, unobstructed by cars.

“People will use transit if it’s competitive with cars,” said McPhail. “St. Clair is a step in that direction.”

While streetcars already have their own right of way along Spadina and Queens Quay, transit doesn’t have priority at all intersections and the look is bleak. The St. Clair plan — which should be complete by the end of 2006 — promises a new urban streetscape, an attempt at city building that planners say will invigorate the area.

If the project works as well as predicted, it will be the model for similar projects on arteries like Kingston Rd. and Eglinton Ave. Representatives of Save Our St. Clair opposition group could not be reached for comment.

� McGran