In the first part of this article, I looked at the origins of Transit City. Here, I will turn to that plan’s various components and to other transit schemes that have some or all of their funding in place.
Sheppard East LRT
Original proposal: Don Mills Station (connection geometry to be determined) to Morningside, $555m (2007) including vehicles, but excluding maintenance facilities, inflation and the cost of an underground station at Don Mills.
Current status: Don Mills Station (underground connection at subway level, portal at Consumer’s Road) to Meadowvale. Estimated cost $1,189m including connection at Don Mills ($110m), the maintenance facility at Conlins Road ($244m) and inflation. Federal and provincial funding in place for $950m.
Preliminary construction is underway with opening scheduled for 2013. It is unclear whether the LRT project is paying the full cost of the grade separation at Agincourt which is a needed GO Transit and roadway improvement given the planned GO service expansion.
The rise in projected cost of this project is a good example of a general problem with transit capital cost estimates. Because some components are missing and inflation is not included, the advertised cost does not cover the entire project. In time that undermines the TTC’s credibility as a proponent for new systems and wastes the political capital of those who advocated for these projects in the first place.
The Sheppard East design is quite straightforward with a surface right-of-way, the now familiar farside stops and left turn bays. West of Consumer’s Road, the line will drop into a tunnel under Highway 404 and will meet the Sheppard Subway at platform level providing a direct transfer connection. Originally, there was to be a surface link to Don Mills for the future LRT line, but the Don Mills route itself may come in below grade and require a different approach to connecting the two routes.
The original Transit City announcement foresaw through-routing of Sheppard East trains onto the Scarborough Malvern line. This would allow direct service to University of Toronto’s Scarborough Campus (UTSC) from Don Mills Station as and when the 2km section of the Scarborough Malvern line from Sheppard south to Ellesmere is built.
Finch West (and Don Mills Extension)
Original proposal: Finch Station to Highway 27, $835m (2007) including vehicles but excluding maintenance facilities, any underground subway connections and inflation.
Current status: Eastern extension via Finch and Don Mills to Don Mills station proposed by Queen’s Park. Western extension to Woodbine Live and/or Pearson Airport under study as a separate project. Funding confirmed from Queen’s Park for $1.2b including the Don Mills extension, a maintenance facility near Finch and Jane, and inflation.
The final cost estimate requires refinement of the connection plans at all three subway interchanges, and it is unclear whether the project can be completed within the announced funding. Moreover, the eastern leg of the route has not yet been through the Transit Project Assessment (TPA) process, and that is likely to stir up considerable objections because of the surface alignment through a low-rise residential neighbourhood.
If you listen to the TTC and City of Toronto, construction will start in 2010 with work on some bridge widening at river crossings. If you listen to Metrolinx, construction will start in 2011, although they are trying to determine whether cash flows within their budget can be adjusted. More about Metrolinx budget problems later in this article.
Original proposal: Kennedy Station to Pearson Airport, $2.24bn (2007) including vehicles but excluding maintenance facility and inflation. Underground operation from Laird Drive to Keele Street.
Current status: Underground section extended west to the valley at Black Creek, and east from Laird to the west bank of the Don Valley east of Brentcliffe. Don Mills/Eglinton station moved underground with an associated tunnel. Geometry of Kennedy Station connection still under study. Maintenance facility site selected at the Kodak lands west of Black Creek.
Funding confirmed from Queen’s Park for $4.6bn including maintenance facility and inflation. Construction to start in 2010 with completion in stages from 2016 through 2020.
Of particular concern on the Eglinton line’s design is the approach taken for left turns at major intersections. These will now be handled in a roundabout manner where cars will drive well beyond the intersection to a designated U-turn location, and then return to access the desired cross-street via a right turn. This arrangement does not eliminate conflicts between left turns and transit, only moves it away from the intersection to decouple the left turns from the regular cycling of the traffic signals.
I have heard of a proposal to prebuild at least one intersection with the new layout in 2010 to see how it will work, but have no specifics on this. Definitely, a trial is needed to determine the viability of this scheme before we build many kilometres of line to this design only to discover it does not work as expected.
The Eglinton West right-of-way through Etobicoke includes the Richview Expressway corridor (that big empty space parallel to the road on the north side). Although this would be separate from the LRT project itself, a sadly missed opportunity is an urban design exercise for this large amount of vacant land. What could Eglinton West look like? How will it be developed? Could the LRT be shifted to side-of-the-road operation? None of these questions will be answered, and there is strong resistance from the TTC to anything other than a standard centre-lane treatment.
The renovation, extension and conversion of the RT from ICTS to LRT technology was not part of the Transit City plan. Funding is in place from Queen’s Park for $1.4bn including inflation.
The line, as an LRT route, will share the carhouse planned for Sheppard East. All of the public presentations to date for this project were ICTS-based, but the decision to shift to LRT has gradually gained acceptance as part of an integrated Scarborough network. Because of the ICTS focus, no plans were shown for a connection to the Sheppard East line (essential for carhouse sharing), and the alignment is resolutely not along main streets.
Although Queen’s Park has earmarked money for this project, we have never seen a detailed proposal based on the LRT option with the line running through to Sheppard. I understand that another round of public meetings with updated designs will take place in the next few months.
Construction was planned to start in 2012 with 2016 completion, but this will likely change now that the SRT is seen as potential route for passengers bound for UTSC and the Pan Am Games aquatic facility in 2015. More about that later.
Extension of the city streetcar/LRT system into the eastern waterfront is not part of Transit City, but will take place in the same timeframe. This project is funded by Waterfront Toronto which, in turn, gets its money from all three levels of government plus revenue from property developments.
The funded portions of the work are (I believe) the connection east from Queen’s Quay Station to Parliament Street, and the connection south from King and Sumach to Cherry Street at the rail corridor.
The unfunded portions of the work are the reconfiguration of the Cherry, Queen’s Quay, Lake Shore intersection as part of the Don river mouth project, as well as the future lines south and east through the Port Lands. Without the reconfiguration, it will not be possible to operate a through service between Queen’s Quay and Cherry, or by extension from the Waterfront to Broadview Station or other locations east of downtown.
Metrolinx Budget Woes
Announcements are one thing, but actual money in hand is quite another. Metrolinx, who will actually own the completed LRT lines, must apply for its budget every year just like any other provincial agency. It does not have a big pot of money from which it can finance projects as it sees fit. This arrangement ensures that the entire $50bn-plus for the Big Move isn’t all spent building two subway lines.
We don’t know the details of the Metrolinx year-to-year budget, but we do know already that they are concerned about cash flows. For that reason, they are leery of moving up any projects from the announced schedule. Conversely, they (and Queen’s Park generally) have to deal with the funding commitments for the 2015 Pan Am Games. Like many special events, the Games will cause budgets to be gerrymandered for years to come. When times are good, this sort of thing vanishes in the routine ebbs and flows of budgets. When times are hard, moving work between budget years is much more challenging.
Metrolinx is already looking for ways to trim the Transit City projects to keep their spending within the announced funding, and some changes are already more or less common knowledge.
- The SRT (or is it SLRT now?) will terminate at Sheppard with the Malvern extension left for another day. Also, we need an updated cost estimate based on LRT technology.
- The airport link from Renforth may be severed from the Eglinton project itself. Given that this is the last piece of the Eglinton route to be completed, and that its design could be affected by the proposed Finch West extension, it would make sense to make the airport access from both LRT lines a separate project.
- The Finch East to Don Mills link simply does not make sense given the area it passes through, and speaks more to a connect-the-dots approach than to good transit planning. If Finch East does eventually get an LRT line, it should not end at Don Mills given the heavy demand originating further east.
- The initial size of the Transit City fleet needs to be reviewed. Demand will not build up to 2030 loading projections overnight, and overprovisioning of cars will simply waste capital and drive up maintenance costs. (It would also allow the TTC to slip into poor maintenance habits born of a too-large fleet.) There will be plenty of time to buy another batch of LRVs for system expansion in the 2020s.
The Pan Am Games
At the TTC, there has been much hand-wringing about the status of the SRT replacement project. The service designs for access to UTSC clearly see frequent service from the SRT (probably at Scarborough Town Centre) running out to the campus. However, that campus will host only one type of event, and many attendees will likely arrive from points not well served by the SRT. We first need to know what the demand projections for transit service from the west and south (the only two directions addressed by TTC services) will be.
The City of Toronto speaks of accelerating the Scarborough Malvern line’s construction to provide service from Kennedy Station. I do not agree with this approach, and fear it is born of two considerations:
- The original ICTS plan for the RT extension made it physically separate from the network with no ability to provide through service to UTSC.
- If Eglinton Malvern isn’t built now, it may slip down the priority list among all transit projects.
With the conversion of the SRT to LRT technology and the provision of an interchange at Sheppard for carhouse moves, it would be possible to run SRT trains out to Sheppard East. Moreover, if the 2km stretch of the Scarborough Malvern line were “prebuilt”, service could be provided from Kennedy, STC and Don Mills stations directly to UTSC.
Indeed, an eastern branch to UTSC would give the Sheppard East line an outer anchor and would bring service to that campus much sooner than is likely with the Scarborough Malvern route.
This option has never been discussed at the TTC, although I know that some at Metrolinx have given it consideration. With the Games preparations now underway, and with Metrolinx looking to maximize the benefits gained from its investments, this option deserves detailed study.
The Athletes’ Village for the Games will be built in the West Don Lands, an area served by the Cherry Street extension. However, as with other Games venues, it is unclear how much demand this will actually create on the transit system. The Village is a closed site with no competition venues, and it will not attract large, surge loads to and from events. Given the security arrangements for atheletes and others officially connected to the Games, it is not even clear that “public” transit would be able to serve this area.
The real issue comes once the Games complete, and the Village’s housing stock is opened for public occupancy. Toronto will see an “instant city” in the eastern waterfront, and transit needs to be there from day 1.
The Toronto York Spadina Subway Extension (TYSSE)
The Spadina extension to Vaughan is now under construction with opening planned in 2015. The total project cost is $2.6bn funded by Ottawa, Queen’s Park, the City of Toronto and York Region.
The line is expected to increase net operating costs of the TTC by over $10m annually once it opens, but there are no plans at present for supplementary funding to cover this.
New Cars for the City Streetcar System
The TTC has ordered 204 new Bombardier Flexity streetcars to replace the existing CLRV and ALRV fleets. Current plans call for the ALRVs to be retired first as they are the less dependable of the two fleets and more expensive to keep in operation. This project is funded 2/3 by the City of Toronto, and 1/3 by the Province of Ontario.
Although money was supposed to be included in the Waterfront Toronto budget for added cars for the new lines, it is unclear whether this has survived various budget cuts and inflation. At this point, no additional cars have been ordered for expansion of the streetcar system.
The TTC will build a new carhouse and maintenance shops at Ashbridges Bay on the southeast corner of Leslie and Lake Shore Blvd. E. No special funding arrangements have been announced for this project.
In the final part of this article, I will turn to the projects that are not yet funded.