The Star’s Ben Spurr reports that the Glen Andrews Community Association in Scarborough has proposed yet another variant on the Scarborough Subway, and that this is supported by Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker and provincial Minister (and former Councillor) Brad Duguid. City Planning staff are already engaged in reviewing this proposal without any direction to do so from Council, according to Spurr’s article.
The scheme, nicknamed the “Big Bend” would enter Scarborough Town Centre on an east-west axis rather than the north-south route proposed by the TTC. It would veer east at Ellesmere and then make a wide turn bringing the route under the existing RT through the STC station area and continue to vacant space on the east side of Brimley. This open area would be used as the staging area for the tunnel construction akin to the sites on the Crosstown project at Black Creek and at Brentcliffe.
This would avoid creation of a staging area for the subway tunnel near Ellesmere and McCowan and limit the need to expropriate lands for the subway and a new station, but it would also leave the subway aligned in a way that would allow eventual westward extension to link with the Sheppard line.
Although this has been reported simply as a revised alignment, much more is involved in this proposal. Instead of twin tunnels, the TTC’s typical construction method, a single 12m to 13m bore would be used, one that could accommodate station structures within the tunnel and eliminate (or at least reduce) the need for surface excavation such as we have seen on the TYSSE station projects. The technical side of this scheme was put forward by Michael Schatz, Managing Director of engineering company Hatch (a portion of the former Hatch Mott Macdonald) which shows up from time to time as a consultant to the TTC and GO Transit. Whether this is an official company proposal, or a personal scheme, or some sort of “business development”, is hard to say. There is no reference to this proposal on the company’s website.
As for the politicians, De Baeremaeker in Council and Duguid behind the scenes at Queen’s Park have been meddling in the LRT/subway debate for some time. De Baeremaeker’s initial motivation appeared to be avoiding an election attack by a Ford stand-in challenging his dedication to Scarborough’s manifest subway destiny. Duguid’s role raises questions about who sets transportation policy in Kathleen Wynne’s government and just how much real commitment there is to any of the LRT schemes in Toronto beyond the Crosstown project now under construction.
At yesterday’s TTC Board meeting, De Baeremaeker was noticeably silent on this proposal, but instead focused on the need to get construction underway and end the delays which push up the project’s cost. (For a $3.6 billion project, inflation at 4%, the rate used by the TTC, adds $144m/year, or $12m per month plus the sunk cost of having the project team sit around working on alternative designs until Council makes a decision.)
This is not simply a case of looking at an alternative design for the STC area, but of reviewing the entire line. The larger tunnel would be dug at a different elevation, and the manner in which it would link to the existing structure at Kennedy, not to mention how it will co-exist with the planned eastern extension of the Crosstown LRT, must be worked out. Terminal operations for a pair of stacked platforms at STC also need to be designed if the TTC intends to run all service through to that point.
This represents a considerable delay. It was intriguing that GDB did not mention this proposal at today’s TTC meeting and in fact held to the idea of getting politics out of the way and letting the project proceed.
The Community Association appears to have conflicting goals for their proposal:
And at the end of all this we have a ‘dead end’ subway.
- A subway that can never be extended to the east if/when demand justified an extension to Centennial College or Malvern or U of T.
- A subway that City Planners say ‘should not’ be extended north to the Sheppard.
- A subway that cannot be turned north west toward the huge concentrations of potential TTC riders in the Kennedy-Sheppard area. [p. 2]
And if we are really into city building, true long term thinking, here’s a huge advantage: building The Big Curve means that the subway is not ‘dead ended’ at Scarborough Centre. It turns northwest. The ‘tail track’ points toward the huge concentration of potential TTC riders already in place and with more on the way in the Kennedy-Sheppard area. It points toward the Agincourt GO-Smart Track Station. It is in the approved alignment of the Sheppard Subway to our Centre. It has a future! [pp. 6-7]
It is self evident that if the subway is going to Agincourt and Don Mills, it is most certainly not going to Centennial College, Malvern or UofT. There may be Scarborough Subway Champions now at Queen’s Park (the Liberal’s Mitzie Hunter and the Tory’s Raymond Cho), but the proposed Big Bend line will never come near their ridings in eastern Scarborough.
The Sheppard connection proposal has been around for years, and is a leftover from Rob Ford’s mayoral campaign. De Baeremaeker’s recent comments disparaging the Relief Line take on a new meaning in the context of a politician looking to plunder the capital budget to suit his own ends. It is quite clear that with this outlook, the Sheppard LRT will never be built even though it still appears on official provincial maps. So much for Queen’s Park’s “commitment” to eastern Scarborough.
The single bore tunnel will be quite deep both for structural reasons related to its size and to stay out of the way of utilities. At STC station, the idea is that a deep station would be built within the tunnel under the existing bus loop thereby avoiding the need for a completely new terminal. However, the vertical difference would pose a transfer time penalty, an amusing situation when one considers the scorn heaped on the design of Kennedy Station’s SRT to subway link.
The tunnel option is presented as one that could proceed without the surface disruptions of conventional subway construction as practiced by the TTC. This is not entirely true.
At STC, it will be necessary to build large vertical shafts, at least two, linking from the surface down to the station itself. These must be long and wide enough to house emergency ventillation, stairs, escalators and elevators, and their surface footprint will be considerable. Whether such links can be built while the bus terminal remains in operation is hard to say, and more detailed design of this interface is needed
Similarly, if Lawrence East Station reappears, as the Community Association proposes, it will require access shafts from the surface down to the station. This is a difficult location because Highland Creek crosses McCowan here, but stations below the water table are not unheard of even in Toronto (see York Mills and Queens Quay for examples, although the latter is comparatively shallow). The press release argues that a Lawrence East Station would be cheaper with the single tunnel scheme than with a standard TTC cut-and-cover structure, but the real question is how much this station would add to the cost of a project which does not now include it.
Emergency exit shafts are required roughly between stations. Construction activity for one of these can be seen along Eglinton such as at Petman (east of Mt. Pleasant) where the access is dug down from the surface to tunnels that have already been built below the street. Just because there are no stations from Kennedy to STC does not mean that the space between them will be free of construction effects.
At STC, assuming that the existing bus terminal can remain in operation, there would be a saving on building its replacement. However, this is only one part of a more complex comparison that must be performed between the current TTC proposal’s design and whatever might develop from the Big Bend option. One cannot assume a “saving” until the relative cost and components of the two schemes are worked out.
The Community Association proposes that the tunnel launch site use existing green space on the west side of STC beside Brimley Road. By comparison with the sites on Eglinton at Black Creek and at Brentcliffe, this may not be large enough (especially considering its “long” dimension runs north-south), but that could be dealt with by temporarily closing an adjacent road and expanding into the existing parking lot.
The proposal includes a long list of items that could be avoided by the Big Bend option compared to what the TTC is likely to do, including ”
- No need for a temporary bus terminal.
- No need to buy a fleet of buses to carry SRT passengers.
Whether a temporary terminal can be avoided while construction of the links to a new station below it is underway remains to be seen. As for a fleet of buses for SRT passengers, that has nothing to do with the subway plan at all, unless the subway is built in the SRT corridor, an alignment the TTC has already rejected for other reasons.
It is ironic that this scheme only became possible once the City decided it could not afford to take the subway to Sheppard and cut the line back to STC. If there really were a desire to serve the area north of Highway 401 and east of STC, the subway would have gone there. Instead we are back to the Sheppard hookup proposal.
If Council really wants to reopen the entire debate, they need to be honest about what this will cost in time and dollars. Unless there is a change in funding from Ottawa and Queen’s Park, their contributions are fixed and any new costs are entirely on the City’s account. How many more years of the 1.6% Scarborough Subway Tax will be needed to pay for this? How will the return of the Sheppard Subway Extensions to the political field affect priorities for spending elsewhere in the City? How many more Councillors will cry that their wards “deserve” a subway?
Muddled into all of this is the status of SmartTrack which even though the brand name remains in use is really nothing more than a few local stops added to GO’s RER plans. Toronto will have to decide before the end of November (a Metrolinx imposed deadline) just how much it will shell out for additional “SmartTrack” infrastructure.
Councillors are quick to complain that transit project costs rise uncontrollably, but faced with the need to settle on a design so that it can be costed to a reliable level for budgets and construction, continue to pursue alternatives. No doubt the Big Bend proponents will want a cost estimate for their scheme in months so that a formal decision can be made.
If De Baeremaeker, Duguid and Tory have already decided that the Big Bend is the only scheme that will be acceptable, then the whole process of past years has been a sham. It is entirely possible that the Eglinton East LRT, the sweetener added to the Scarborough transit plan to make the subway more palatable, will simply fall off of the map and the money will all go to the subway project. This would be a brutal “bait and switch” for eastern Scarborough, but it would show the true colours of their “subway champions”.