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Eglinton, Finch lines threatened by Scarborough subways

by Tim Foran

Building Mayor Rob Ford’s two promised subway extensions to Scarborough would use up essentially all of the $8.15 billion in provincial transit funding committed for Toronto, leaving no money for trains on or under Eglinton or Finch avenues, according to an analysis based on TTC cost estimates.

Extending both the existing Sheppard (from Don Mills) and the Bloor-Danforth (from Kennedy) subway lines - respectively, the number one and two transit priorities outlined by Ford in his campaign platform - to Scarborough Town Centre (STC) would cost $7.2 billion. The figures are included in a TTC briefing note that was presented to Ford’s transition team on Nov. 9 and that was supplied to this newspaper by St. Paul’s Councillor and former TTC commissioner Joe Mihevc.

Though not included in the briefing note, the TTC’s per-kilometre estimates for subway construction indicate it would also cost an additional $1.3 billion to extend the Sheppard subway west from Yonge Street to Downsview Station at Allen Road, a section also included in Ford’s platform.

Those costs therefore wouldn’t leave money to build either subway or light-rail trains underneath Eglinton and Finch, as Ford has asked the TTC and Metrolinx to study, said Mihevc.

“It’s not doable and everybody knows it,” he said.

Mihevc is pushing for the retention of the individual plans already endorsed by city council and the province’s transportation planning agency, Metrolinx, for four new light-rail transit (LRT) lines. They include routes along Eglinton Avenue from Kennedy station to Jane Street, with the majority of the line underground (Laird Drive to Black Creek); Finch Avenue, from Keele Street to Humber College; and Sheppard Avenue from Don Mills to past Malvern. The fourth line would replace the aging Scarborough Rapid Transit trains with LRT cars along the existing right-of-way to McCowan station and then continue to Sheppard via Centennial College.

The Finch, Sheppard and just under half of the Eglinton LRT lines would consist of dedicated tracks at street level under existing plans. TTC spokesperson Brad Ross said the objective is to widen those roads so no existing traffic lanes are removed. However, critics have pointed out the at-grade trains would prevent cars from turning left at some intersections and Ford has said plans for Transit City and any new at-grade trains are dead. He has asked the TTC to report back in January about strategies to bury the lines underground.

Ford’s newly appointed TTC chair and Eglinton-Lawrence Councillor Karen Stintz said it’s premature to conclude the Finch and Eglinton lines can’t be built underground as well as building Ford’s proposed subway extensions, all for the province’s $8.15 billion. Both the province and Ford have rejected adding more funding to that amount.

The existing budget for the Eglinton LRT - which a Metrolinx spokesperson stated “would be the backbone of travel across Toronto” due partially to its connections to GO Transit lines and TTC subway stations - is already $4.6 billion, and only 10 kilometres of the 19-km route are scheduled to be underground. Asked if it wasn’t logical to deduce the budget would increase by building the entire line underground, Stintz responded: “That’s part of the plan and the review and so I’m waiting for the review to come back.”

Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler, who organized a canvass in Stintz’s ward Saturday, Dec. 4 to save Transit City, said while everyone claims they like subways, they have to admit there’s a huge extra cost involved.

“As the plan starts to come back in January, anybody who represents an Eglinton ward is going to have to fess up to the fact that saying you’re going to bury it (the entire route) means there’s going to be extra cost that isn’t covered…and may well mean that we never see that line that we’ve been promised for so long.”

The TTC’s estimates for the Sheppard and Bloor-Danforth subway extensions are essentially double what Ford said they would cost in his campaign platform. He said it would cost $3 billion to complete the Sheppard subway line from Downsview to STC, and $1 billion to extend the Bloor-Danforth subway along the existing elevated Scarborough Rapid Transit (SRT) route to McCowan station.

The TTC’s briefing note states the SRT can’t be replaced with a subway on the existing right-of-way because both the radius of the curves between SRT stations are too tight and a tunnel section at Ellesmere doesn’t support subway trains. It states a different alignment for the subway extension is needed, and estimates it could be extended to STC from Kennedy with one new station at Lawrence Avenue for $3.1 billion, including vehicles and a new maintenance facility.

The Sheppard subway extension from Don Mills to STC would cost an estimated $4.1 billion, including a new maintenance facility. The estimate is based on a route running along Sheppard to just past Kennedy before running south to STC.