The Eglinton-Crosstown LRT

Text by James Bow

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When the EGLINTON-CROSSTOWN LRT opens to the public in 2022, passengers will be able to board LRT vehicles from an underground terminal in Mount Dennis station near Weston Road and travel east paralleling Eglinton Avenue. Emerging briefly to cross Black Creek via a bridge, the line dives underground again, past many stations including interchanges with the SPADINA and YONGE subways before emerging briefly to cross the Don River. After diving underground beneath Don Mills, the line emerges again near Wynford to head east in the middle of Eglinton Avenue to a new underground terminal at Kennedy station.

When it was proposed on March 16, 2007, the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT line was a 33 kilometre run expected to cost $2.2 billion and feature just one tunnel extending only between Keele Street and Laird Drive. Since then, the project has become more ambitious. With Toronto mayor Rob Ford vetoing proposals to operate LRT lines on street, the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT acquired an all-underground route and an extension along the alignment of the SCARBOROUGH RT. Costs ballooned to nearly $8.1 billion before Toronto City Council vetoed Ford’s decision in February 2012, restoring the partially at-grade alignment. Further political decisions cost the route its extension along the Scarborough RT’s alignment. Future extensions call for the line to be extended west of Jane to Pearson Airport, but political wrangling at City Hall and Queen’s Park have this in doubt.

The Rise of Eglinton Avenue

Eglinton Avenue started life as the third concession road north of Queen Street, well into the hinterland surrounding the old City of York. Initially, it did not run much farther than Jane Street on the west and Laird Drive on the east, as the Humber and Don river valleys respectively represented considerable barriers. West of the Humber, the corresponding concession road came to be known as Richview, and while Eglinton Avenue continued in name through Scarborough Township, it wasn’t until the 1950s when North York, Leaside and Scarborough collaborated on the construction of an extension that the two segments were joined.

Development came slowly to Eglinton, but it did come. As houses and businesses spread up Yonge Street through the 19th century, the village of North Toronto anchored itself near the Yonge-Eglinton intersection. Montgomery’s Tavern, the famous site of one of the battles of the Upper Canada Rebellion in 1837, is located on Yonge just a few blocks north of Eglinton. As Toronto’s suburban development filled the townships of York and the village of Leaside, Eglinton Avenue became a commercial strip which supported these neighbourhoods.

On November 19, 1924, streetcar service began as part of the OAKWOOD route, with cars trundling from a loop at Gilbert Avenue, east along Eglinton to Oakwood and south on Oakwood to St. Clair. Bus services started up soon thereafter, with the EGLINTON bus serving the North Toronto neighbourhood starting September 14, 1930, with additional service on the EGLINTON WEST bus operating between Oakwood and Yonge Street starting October 14, 1936.

As Toronto’s suburban growth sprawled following the Second World War, Eglinton’s importance as a major thoroughfare increased. The YONGE subway opened with Eglinton station at its northern terminus on March 30, 1954, and through bus service followed soon thereafter (to Oakwood at first, and then beyond in the early 1960s. Plans were afoot to convert the 32 EGLINTON WEST bus to trolley coach operation (scrubbed due to opposition by residents in Forest Hill). It would have operated to Jane Street, which was where Eglinton Avenue ended, until the late 1960s.

Then, Metropolitan Toronto bridged the Humber River, connected Eglinton Avenue to Richview Road in Etobicoke, and renamed Richview Road Eglinton Avenue. Richview itself would have been the route taken by a new expressway, connecting the 401/427 interchange with an extension of Highway 400 at today’s Black Creek Drive, but these plans were scrapped by the mid 1970s. In the east, the gap across the Don River had been bridged for almost 20 years, providing a wide thoroughfare across the top of Toronto. Traffic and development soon followed.

Just as the new suburban development increased traffic on Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue, increasing ridership on the BLOOR streetcar beyond what was on Queen (which was considered, at the time, to be the city’s second most important street after Yonge), the same factors increased traffic and development along Eglinton. People could now travel across the city quickly, without having to spend time trekking down to Bloor, or contending with the congestion there. This combined with extensive commercial development around the terminus of the Yonge subway line created a vibrant “uptown” around the Yonge-Eglinton intersection, where houses had existed just years before.

Eglinton Rapid Transit Proposals

For this and other reasons, proposals for a rapid transit line along Eglinton Avenue materialized as early as the 1960s, with some politicians in the borough of North York seeing it as a higher priority than the Queen subway. In 1984, the Network 2011 proposal for subway development called for a busway to be built along Eglinton from Eglinton West station to the Mississauga border, to be converted into a full-fledged subway by 2014. By 1994, the New Democratic provincial government started construction on a shortened version of that subway, only to have the contracts cancelled by the incoming Progressive Conservative government and the hole filled in. The SHEPPARD subway was built instead.

Despite this failure, the desire for rapid transit service along Eglinton did not go away. The urban development along much of the route was dense, and the buses serving it were crowded and frequent. There were also stretches where urban intensification was possible. Some critics panned the Eglinton West subway for acting as an appendage to the YONGE-UNIVERSITY subway line, stopping at Allen Road and not serving the denser areas between Allen and Yonge. So, when the Transit City proposal was unveiled, it was no surprise that Eglinton received attention, that the proposed route extended across the city, that the densest, most congested section of that route would be underground, and that the underground tunnel would be built with future conversion to a full-fledged subway in mind.

The Transit City Proposal.

When it was unveiled in March 2007 as part of the Transit City proposals, plans called for the EGLINTON-CROSSTOWN LRT route operating from Pearson Airport in the west to Kennedy station on the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway station in the east. The route would operate on the surface, using private right-of-way along the centre of the street, with the exception of an underground tunnel, starting from Black Creek Drive in the west and operating to Brentcliffe Road in the east. Stations in the tunnel included Keele, Caledonia, Dufferin, Oakwood, Eglinton West, Bathurst, Chaplin, Avenue Road, Eglinton/Yonge, Mount Pleasant, Bayview and Laird.

It was expected that ridership on the new line would be as high as 5,400 passengers per direction in the peak hour — almost twice as many riders as expected on the FINCH WEST and SHEPPARD EAST LRTs. Travel times on the tunnelled section would improve from 48 minutes down to 19. Three-car LRT trains would be required, possibly with additional service operating within the underground section itself. The tunnel, of course, made the line the most expensive of the Transit City projects, with the initial budget forecast at $2.2 billion. Further studies altered the design, increasing costs, but haven’t diminished political interest in the line. The line was included with the province’s $12 billion MoveOntario 2020 announcement in July 2007. On April 1, 2009, the provincial government announced $4.6 billion in funding for the line, with construction to begin late in 2010.

Among the changes to the design included lengthening the tunnel beneath Eglinton Avenue and the construction of two new underground interchanges on the route — one at Don Mills Road to connect with a DON MILLS LRT and possibly the northern extension of the Downtown Relief subway line, and the other at Kennedy station at the eastern end of the line. The initial budget also did not include the costs of building a car storage and maintenance facility, and one is now planned on land previously occupied by the Kodak factory near Black Creek Drive.

Underground Design

In July 2009, TTC planners announced a preliminary design for the Eglinton LRT, including a detailed plan for the underground section between Black Creek Drive and Brentcliffe Road. The proposal called for two six-metre wide bored tunnels, with twelve stations en route. From west to east, these stations included:

Keele: lying east of Keele Street, and featuring a small four-bay bus terminal in the southwest corner of Keele, Trethewey and Yore Road. Obvious bus connections include a Trethewey route (broken off of the old 32 Eglinton West bus), and northbound and southbound Keele buses. With station stops every 400 metres on the surface but every 800 metres underground, it’s possible that the TTC will operate a parallel bus service above the underground tunnel and, if so, this would be the logical western terminus for it.

Caledonia: Located west of the CN rail corridor, which is west of Caledonia Road itself. A connection to the Barrie GO line might be possible here. As Eglinton Avenue dips south at this point, the tunnel, running straight, would be beneath the Westside Shopping Centre parking lot. The station would also feature a bus loop just east of the railway tracks for the Lansdowne/Caledonia bus. This loop would be across the street from the parkette that once held Gilbert Loop, where the Oakwood streetcar turned.

Dufferin: A simple station lying underneath the Dufferin/Eglinton intersection, with no provision for off-street bus connections.

Oakwood: As with Dufferin, this station would lie underneath the Oakwood/Eglinton intersection and have no provision for off-street bus connections. 63 Ossington buses would continue to turn back at Eglinton West station down the street.

Eglinton West/Allen: This station, connecting to the Spadina subway, would operate beneath the existing structure of the subway station. It’s possible that this stop will make use of structures built as part of the Eglinton West subway. While the hole has been filled in and there’s no ghost tunnel to discover, construction did move pipes and conduits, making construction here a little easier. The original design for this interchange, when it was part of the Eglinton West subway, featured south-to-west and west-to-north curves connecting the line to the Spadina subway for movements to and from Wilson Yard, but such a connection is not needed now.

Bathurst: A standard station located beneath the Bathurst/Eglinton intersection, with no provision for off-street bus connections.

Chaplin: A standard station located beneath the Chaplin/Eglinton intersection with no provision for off-street bus connections. Early in the design process, it was rumoured that this station was targetted for removal from the plan by Metrolinx planners, seeking to speed up travel times. However, TTC planners appear to have prevailed in keeping the station in place, noting that the grades in the area make for a difficult walk to Bathurst or Avenue Road stations.

Avenue Road: (sometimes referred to as just “Avenue”) A standard station located beneath the Avenue Road/Eglinton intersection with no provision for off-street bus connections. Buses on 61 AVENUE ROAD NORTH could continue along Eglinton Avenue to Eglinton/Yonge station, or might be integrated with the 5 AVENUE ROAD line.

Eglinton/Yonge: Located between Yonge Street and Duplex Avenue, just on the north side of the original Eglinton station bus terminal. It would run underneath the Yonge subway to avoid existing passageways across Eglinton Avenue.

The Eglinton-Crosstown LRT would significantly reduce the need for an extensive bus terminal at Eglinton/Yonge, such as what now exists at the site. Other than possibly 61 AVENUE ROAD NORTH and 103 MOUNT PLEASANT NORTH, no other routes would use the bus terminal (it is likely that 97 YONGE and the parallel EGLINTON bus service would simply bypass the terminal, and connect on-street).

Mount Pleasant: Initial plans have this station located east of this intersection, with exits either at two currently vacant houses on the north side of Eglinton, or possibly in the middle of the bus loop on Mount Pleasant Road north of Eglinton.

Bayview: Station located to the east of the intersection (avoiding a steep grade to the west). The area used to be the site of a swamp, which could pose difficulties in the construction.

Laird: This station stop was initially located further east at Brentcliffe Road, until local residents complained, asking for the station to be moved to this spot, which is more central to the community.

After emerging onto the surface east of Brentcliffe Road, it’s possible that the LRT would operate on the south side of Eglinton Avenue, where few driveways exist to impede the progress of the vehicles. As the line approached Don Mills, however, it would dive underground to Don Mills station. Here, provisions would exist to connect the line to the Don Mills LRT (possibly operating on the surface), as well as possibly the northern terminus of the Downtown Relief subway line. A five bay bus terminal would rise on the northeast corner of the intersection, possibly as a terminal for the parallel bus service, but most likely to serve in the interim years when the Eglinton LRT operates, but Don Mills is still plied with buses.

Going Fully Underground… …and Back Up Again

On December 1, 2010, the newly-elected mayor Rob Ford announced plans to cancel the Transit City network. During the election, he had campaigned on a platform that included extending the Sheppard subway to Scarborough Town Centre, and replacing the aging Scarborough RT with an extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway.

Killing the Transit City network wasn’t quite so simple, however. Portions of the network were already under construction, and the provincial agency Metrolinx had agreed to pay for all of the costs of much of the network, including the EGLINTON-CROSSTOWN LRT. The mayor’s office entered into negotiations with Metrolinx and, in March 31, 2011, the two sides issued a “memorandum of understanding”. The City of Toronto would be responsible for paying for the full cost of the Sheppard subway; the mayor’s office promised that funds would come through the private sector. In return, Metrolinx would route the funds allocated for all remaining Transit City projects into an all-underground version of the EGLINTON-CROSSTOWN line. This line would be through-routed with the SCARBOROUGH RT, which would itself be rebuilt to handle LRT vehicles. Reports indicated that Metrolinx had been prepared to offer $2 billion towards the construction of the SHEPPARD subway on condition that the Eglinton LRT be allowed to operate on the surface east of Brentcliffe Road, but the mayor’s office turned down the offer.

With the deal, Metrolinx set about redesigning the EGLINTON-CROSSTOWN LRT (renamed EGLINTON-SCARBOROUGH-CROSSTOWN) to accommodate the all underground design. Plans indicated that the line would have 26 stations between Jane and McCowan, opening speculation that six proposed stations en route would be cancelled. A preliminary route map released by Metrolinx in June 2011 suggested cuts to Black Creek, Ferrand, Pharmacy, Lebovic, Ionview and Ellesmere. The last would represent the only the second abandonment of a working subway or RT station since Lower Bay.

Tunnelling Begins

As engineering work continued on the new underground section between Brentcliffe and Kennedy, work continued on the already-approved tunnel section between Black Creek and Brentcliffe. Two tunnel boring machines were purchased in 2010, and work started on a shaft to install these machines near Black Creek Drive. Construction on the shaft to install the boring machines began early in 2012.

While this was taking place, debate over the merits of putting the Eglinton LRT fully underground rose at city council. Led by TTC Chair Karen Stintz, a majority of councillors expressed concern that the all-underground design was too expensive and not warranted by the traffic likely to be seen by the Eglinton LRT east of Brentcliffe. Questions were raised over the logistics of burying the line beneath the Don Valley. Stintz in particular saw the full burial as a waste of money, since LRT cars that don’t come to the surface are more expensive than traditional subways. Finally, there was the fact that if the Eglinton LRT returned to the surface east of Brentcliffe Avenue, as much as $1.9 billion could be saved on construction costs — enough to install a surface LRT along Finch Avenue west of Keele and on Sheppard Avenue east of Don Mills.

With Toronto Mayor Rob Ford unwilling to allow the EGLINTON LRT to come to the surface, and Metrolinx proceeding with the underground LRT design, Chair Stintz tried to offer a compromise proposal, where the surface portions of the Eglinton LRT could be restored, an LRT installed on Finch West, and the remainder of the money applied to an extension of the Sheppard subway to Victoria Park. Mayor Ford refused this compromise, using some of the strongest terms possible, which led to a revolt on council.

Council Rebellion

On Monday, February 6, 2012, a majority of councillors signed a notice to call a special meeting of Toronto City Council where Mayor Ford’s “Memorandum of Understanding” with the province was the sole item on the agenda. By a vote of 25-18 (with two councillors absent), councillors rejected the mayor’s all-underground plan for Eglinton. In retaliation, TTC commissioners loyal to Mayor Ford voted to fire TTC General Manager Gary Webster two weeks later, which led to another showdown at City Hall where a majority of councillors sacked the TTC commissioners loyal to Ford. On March 22, the question of whether the remaining funds should be put towards a SHEPPARD subway extension or a Sheppard East LRT was brought before council, with council favouring LRT by a vote of 25-19.

Through all this debate, premier Dalton McGuinty and the minister of transportation Bob Chirelli stated that they were looking for a clear direction from the city of Toronto and that they respected the council’s decision. They reminded mayor Rob Ford that he was supposed to bring his “Memorandum of Understanding” to a vote soon after the deal was reached. Ironically, had Ford done so earlier in his mandate, it’s likely that his plan would have passed. Once the council’s decision was made, however, the Memorandum of Understanding was essentially voided. Metrolinx returned to its original plans for the EGLINTON LRT. The SCARBOROUGH RT would be converted to operate as a separate LRT line.

Further Complications

Council’s support for the original Transit City proposal did not last. Early in 2013, TTC Chair Karen Stintz and Scarborough councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker proposed the One City rapid transit expansion plan. Rather than support the second phase of Metrolinx’s construction program, the proposal called for a number of subway extensions throughout the City of Toronto, ignoring the proposal to extend the EGLINTON LRT west from Weston Road to Pearson Airport. Their plan also called for the SCARBOROUGH RT to be replaced by an extension of the BLOOR-DANFORTH subway, erroneously believing that such an extension could be built for just $500 million more than converting the line to LRT operation.

The Scarborough subway proposal significantly complicated plans for the EGLINTON LRT terminal at Kennedy station. The former Minister of Transport Glen Murray criticized the One City proposal as rocking the boat. City Council ignored his comments and approved the Scarborough subway proposal during its July 2013 meeting, and passed a property tax increase to fund it. The route of this subway is, as yet, unknown. Minister Murray proposed an alignment following the route of the SCARBOROUGH RT, while city planners have proposed a route that extends the BLOOR-DANFORTH line east on Eglinton and north on Danforth Road and McCowan. The latter could be done without disrupting the EGLINTON LRT terminal at Kennedy. Subsequent proposals suggest that this alignment is favoured.

Another complication to the EGLINTON LRT was the proposal mayoral candidate John Tory made in the lead-up to the November 2014 election. His SmartTrack proposal, called for frequent electric trains operating along the Stouffville and Weston GO Train subdivisions, before heading to Pearson Airport alongside Eglinton Avenue, usurping the EGLINTON LRT’s extension west of Weston Road. In spite of concerns over the logistics of such a route, particularly the turn onto Eglinton Avenue, and the lack of a wide-enough right-of-way along Eglinton itself, Tory was elected mayor of Toronto in November 2014 and received council support for his proposal. The proposed service is now under study.

Through it all, the tunnel boring machines have continued to do their work. Launched from shafts at Black Creek and near Brentcliffe Road, the machines named Dennis and Lea (from the west) and Don and Humber (from the east), where placed into the ground to dig 5.75 meter wide tunnels at a rate of ten meters a day, removing 1,000 cubic yards of spoil each day. In April 2015, Dennis and Lea reached the extraction shaft at Eglinton West station after two years of digging. They were moved to the other side of Allen Road on the weekend of April 17-19 to begin new tunnels running from Allen Road to Yonge Street. The event, which included night movements, was publicized and attracted a crowd of appreciative transit fans. Humber and Don had yet to launch. Originally planned to launch in the summer of 2014, they were delayed by a year.

In the midst of all of the debates regarding rapid transit expansion in Toronto, it is easy to forget that progress is being made. As of April 2015, the EGLINTON-CROSSTOWN LRT now sports twin tunnels running between Black Creek Drive and Allen Road. Work is continuing on the planned LRT storage yard and maintenance facility at the former Kodak lands near Black Creek Drive. When the line opens in 2022, it will be the largest expansion of rapid transit to Toronto in over fifty years. That it was accomplished during considerable political wrangling is a testament to its endurance, and the public’s need for the service.


Eglinton-Crosstown LRT Image Archive


References

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