By Karolyn Coorsh
Toronto’s push to fast track a downtown rapid transit plan could send the Yonge subway extension down the province’s transit priority list.
Toronto councillors recently agreed to ask regional transportation agency Metrolinx to bump the Downtown Relief Line from the 25-year priority list to the 15-year list.
The downtown Toronto subway line, which would route roughly from Pape Station on the Bloor-Danforth line into the downtown core and possibly through to the west end, was first proposed in the 1980s and revived only recently.
The new line is necessary to address capacity issues that will result from the planned 6.8-kilometre Yonge subway extension from Finch Station to Richmond Hill Centre, TTC Chair Adam Giambrone said last week.
“What has really bumped this up to a possible higher priority is the issue of the Yonge line,” he said. “If you’re going to extend (it), you’re going to have a lot more passengers and that will put it over capacity earlier.”
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In addition to the estimated $2.5 billion needed for the tunneling of the Yonge extension, Giambrone said the line will also need an additional $1 billion for upgrades, like extra cars and an automatic signaling system, just to handle the influx of riders.
“One way you might want to think about it is if you’re prepared to spend a billion dollars doing that, which has no noticeable improvements for the TTC riders, maybe you should spend $2 billion and actually get a whole new line out of it,” he said.
Ward 5 councillor Alan Shefman said the downtown plan seemed like it was coming out nowhere.
“I’m not saying that once we identify what our concerns are that they shouldn’t be able to change and evolve, but … what is the intent of bringing this in at this point?” he said last week. “They surely were aware of these sorts of issues way before this time.”
York Region Transit vice-president Mary-Frances Turner cautioned against making substantial changes to Metrolinx’s regional transportation plan, unveiled in the fall.
“This is not something that Metrolinx did in a vacuum,” she said. “All of that consultation was done extensively and exhaustively to generate the regional transportation plan.
“So short answer: No, I don’t think two months after the plan has been adopted that it should be changed to reflect a new opinion as to what ought to come first.”
Toronto’s request to Metrolinx was brought forth as part of the TTC’s submission of the completed environmental project report to the province.
Though it would cost more, the downtown line would be an underground subway and not part of Toronto’s plan to build seven above ground light rail lines.
“Because it goes through a densely populated area, if I were to snap my fingers and have it open today, it would carry 18,000 people an hour, which is too high for LRT,” Giambrone said.
Toronto’s request stated the relief line should be built before the Yonge extension but the TTC chair suggested both could be built simultaneously, contingent on cost.