Toronto’s Executive Committee considered a report on the current status of the Eglinton East LRT and Waterfront East LRT projects at its meeting on December 10, 2020.
- Update on the City’s Transit Expansion Projects – Fourth Quarter 2020
- Eglinton East Light Rail Transit and the Waterfront Transit Network
The primary function of this report is to authorize continued study, not to set priorities nor to discuss funding schemes. As such, its recommendations passed easily because it preserves the convenient fiction of progress without actual commitment. The real battles come when there are $30 billion worth of transit projects and less than $10 billion to pay for them.
In a beautifully ironic touch, the same morning brought news from the Toronto Star’s Jennifer Pagliaro that the Scarborough RT would not last long enough to avoid a shutdown well before the Scarborough Subway could be completed. That announcement raises a raft of questions about Toronto’s transit future that go well beyond Scarborough itself, and I will turn to those issues in a separate article.
Scarborough’s Rapid Transit Network Plans
The proposed network in Scarborough is shown in the map below. (Apologies for the poor resolution. This is due to the quality of image in the City’s report. I have asked for a higher res version, and will substitute it when available.)
This map contains several components, some fanciful, while others might be built.
- The Scarborough subway extension of Line 2 east and north to Sheppard
- An eastward extension of the Sheppard Subway (Line 2) to meet the extended Line 2 at McCowan
- A short Sheppard LRT line running from the new subway terminal at McCowan to Neilson
- GO Transit’s Stouffville corridor which is labelled as “GO/SmartTrack”
- An Eglinton East LRT line running north into Malvern
The Scarborough Subway Extension
Leaving aside the debate over the validity of this line, a few points are worth noting.
First, there has been talk of adding a station at Danforth and Brimley, but this is not shown as an option in the plans. Aside from the cost this would add, there could also be implications for construction of the LRT extension because of conflicts with work on the station excavation.
Second, the subway’s design now includes a tail track east of Kennedy Station. This was in the TTC’s original plan, but was cut both for cost reasons and for the political necessity of ensuring that a short turn operation at Kennedy was impossible. The tail track has been restored to the plan, and there is a strong probability that the service plan for the subway will include a peak period turnback with only half of the service running through to Sheppard. This also has implications for fleet planning because a 1:1 replacement of the existing Line 2 fleet will not give the TTC enough trains to run full peak service to Sheppard.
The Sheppard Subway Extension
The Sheppard Subway (Line 4) ends at Don Mills because that is where the City ran out of money after the Harris government turned off the transit funding taps. The first phase would originally have ended at Victoria Park, but that was not to be. Some of the complexity in LRT plans for Sheppard arose from the need to finesse an LRT/subway connection into Don Mills Station rather than a new, purpose built terminus at Victoria Park.
In any event, the Ontario Government announced a Sheppard Subway extension to McCowan and this has been endorsed by City Council, although nobody knows how it will be funded or when/if it will be built. As a placeholder, it keeps a full Sheppard East LRT off of the table, and this is likely its primary raison d’être.
The Sheppard East LRT
A vestigial Sheppard East LRT is included linking the new terminus at Sheppard/McCowan east to the proposed Malvern leg of the Eglinton LRT.
In the medium term, its primary function would be to feed the Scarborough subway at Sheppard. The timing of a Sheppard Subway extension is unknown, and yet it will probably take root much like the Scarborough subway and be impossible to dislodge from plans thereby preventing a westward extension of a Sheppard LRT to Victoria Park or Don Mills.
GO Transit and SmartTrack
The GO Stouffville corridor may or may not get service at the level claimed so many years ago by then-candidate Tory who promised “subway-like” service.
Notable by its absence is the SmartTrack station at Lawrence East where the SRT stops today. Also not shown is the GO Lake Shore East corridor.
Depending on how one views the latent capacity of GO corridors (whatever brand name might be on the trains) to handle more inside-416 traffic, future service plans for the two Scarborough routes are an important part of overall network planning.
Eglinton East LRT
The proposed route is an expansion of the most recent scheme for Eglinton East which ended at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus. The northern leg to Malvern Centre has reappeared.
This design was the original Transit City route called the “Scarborough-Malvern LRT”, a name that stuck for a long time even after the Malvern leg was lopped off and replaced by a proposed SRT extension, later the Scarborough LRT running north and east from Kennedy Station.
Originally, a maintenance and storage facility (MSF) that would have been shared by the Sheppard East, Scarborough and Eglinton East LRT lines was planned at Sheppard and Conlins Road, almost one kilometre east of the proposed route up Morningside. This has been replaced by a new maintenance site north of the UTSC campus.
Because the cost of the MSF must be borne entirely by the Eglinton East project, the cost allocated to the EELRT has gone up. If and when the Sheppard LRT is built, it would take advantage of that facility which is a “saving” on a potential future budget, but the big up front cost now sits entirely on the Eglinton project’s books.
With the MSF located at UTSC, there is an option to open the line in two stages: first from Kennedy Station to UTSC and later to Malvern. This triggers obvious questions about whether “phase 2” will ever be built. One might cynically ask the same about “phase 1” given the degree to which this line has been a political football.
A further problem for the LRT plan is that the design for the Scarborough subway extension conflicts with the original plans for connection into Kennedy Station. (Again, apologies for the resolution of the drawing.)
The subway design now includes a tail track east of Kennedy Station that had been deleted in an earlier version of the plan. This makes the structure wider further east and shifts the transition from cut-and-cover box tunnel to the deep bore. This takes space that was formerly planned for the LRT portal into an underground connection at Kennedy Station.
The LRT plan now drops below grade east of Midland with an underground station there, and this adds roughly $350 million (2020$) to the project cost.
The overall project cost for the line now sits at $4.0-4.4 billion (2020$), up from an original estimate of $2.3 billion. The change comes from four factors:
- Full cost for the MSF is charged to the Eglinton project.
- The extension to Malvern from UTSC is restored.
- The connection to Kennedy Station is more expensive because of a longer underground section and an additional station.
- A review of other projects led to updates in the base costs factors.
The cost breakdown for the changes was not presented to the Executive Committee because the estimates are only preliminary and the timing of various works is still unknown. (Inflation to as-spent dollars depends on when the spending would actually occur.) This will be refined as part of the design work to be done in 2021.
As for project funding, the status of the “Scarborough Subway Levy” is unclear although it could form a base for the LRT project now that Ontario is footing the bill for the subway (or so it is thought). The financial issues of this project will also be reported together with updated design information. It is quite clear that Scarborough Councillors will push for an early commitment to the Eglinton East LRT in hopes of Federal stimulus funding. Whether this will crowd out other projects such as the Waterfront east line remains to be seen.
The City is likely to pursue is a claim against Metrolinx for the cost increase due to the change in subway plans. However, as the subway project’s cost is already climbing and Metrolinx is notoriously unwilling to put money on the table, this claim could hit a brick wall. A related question is whether some of the LRT’s underground structure should be built concurrently with the subway extension project. This would affect the timing of spending on that portion of the LRT, but could also be a cost saving through consolidation of two nearby tunnel projects.
The timeline for reporting is fall 2021 so that the project can be factored into the City’s 2022 budget.
Waterfront East LRT
Although much of the discussion at Executive Committee focused on the Scarborough network, the Waterfront East route was also on the table. Mayor Tory gave this strong support noting that the level of development in the eastern Waterfront risks the city repeating a mistake made at Humber Bayshores in Etobicoke where massive development was not accompanied by transit investment. Tory also spoke about recreational uses in the eastern waterfront saying that “exciting things were coming” without specifics.
The Waterfront study is broken into three segments as shown in the map below.
Area 1 includes Union and Queens Quay Stations, the Bay Street tunnel and expansion of the structure at Queens Quay with an eastern portal at Yonge Street. This work will be managed by the TTC because it primarily involves their underground facilities.
Area 2A runs from Yonge to just east of Parliament Street which has been proposed as an interim terminus for the LRT extension. The scope has now been extended east to Cherry and north to Distillery Loop to connect with the existing streetcar system. Work on these segments will be managed by Waterfront Toronto as the redesign of the streetscape is central to this area.
The original design for Union Station Loop includes four berths for streetcars, two on the northbound and two on the southbound side of the loop with passing tracks so that cars serving different routes could move around each other. It is possible that this scheme could be simplified or staged so that an interim version could serve a lower demand. This relates to the following considerations:
- The full projected demand for the Eastern Waterfront leg might include riders who will be diverted to planned Ontario Line stations.
- The need for the proposed Bremner LRT, itself the weakest part of the overall plan, could be further reduced by the Ontario Line station at Exhibition which would compete with a Bremner service running to Exhibition Loop.
Queens Quay Station
Significant expansion is also planned at Queens Quay to handle the increased level of LRT traffic as well as to correct for the station’s poor operation under heavy load such as summer traffic to the island. This is a work in progress and could be linked with nearby redevelopment to provide improved access to the surface.
Queens Quay Portal
The original proposal for an east portal was located between Yonge and Freeland Streets. This would have required a difficult tunnel build and sewer relocation right beside Lake Ontario.
A revised proposal places the portal between Bay and Yonge Streets in front of the existing hotel entrance. An integral part of that plan is the partial filling of the Yonge Street slip to provide a new area for buses and taxis at a relocated hotel entrance on the east side of the building.
Area 2B: Parliament to Cherry
This area was not part of previous design efforts, but work on it will begin soon. Several elements are involved:
- The effect of the “new” Queens Quay design (this was studied for area 2A, but not yet for 2B)
- Realignment of Parliament Street south of the rail corridor
- Partial filling of the Parliament Street slip to provide for a straightened and extended Queens Quay
- Extension of Queens Quay to the New Cherry Street
- Examination of options for the LRT connection under the rail corridor to Distillery Loop
Queens Quay now dodges north at Parliament to merge with Lake Shore, but plans for the waterfront have always included straightening it out and extending east to Cherry where Lake Shore shifts southward. This is not possible without partial filling of the Parliament Street slip.
Cherry Street itself will be realigned so that it shifts southwest from the rail corridor rather than southeast as at present. This will align with “New” Cherry Street that will cross the Keating Channel on a new bridge. The first component of that bridge, the LRT span, was recently shipped from Nova Scotia to Toronto and has been installed, although it will be many years before it sees an LRT vehicle. The road span, west of the LRT span, will arrive in 2021. New Cherry Street and its bridges will replace the existing and cantankerous lift bridge on “Old” Cherry Street, and traffic will eventually be shifted to the new street.
Not mentioned in this report, but an integral part of the overall plan, is the Gardiner rebuild and realignment project. This includes change in ramp locations, the demolition of the elevated structure over Lake Shore Boulevard from the Don River to Logan, and the construction of a new wider bridge over the Don River for Lake Shore.
As with many projects, the goal is often to phase work so that the entire capital cost is not borne up front. A connection to Distillery Loop avoids the cost of building the extension onto Villiers Island before it is developed. Conversely, going to the distillery requires passing under the rail corridor via either the existing Cherry Street underpass or a new span to be dug through the rail embankment east of the existing one.
The next round of public consultation for this project will likely occur in January, and an update to Council will come in fall 2021 to feed into the 2022 budget cycle.
Note: The presentation deck from a recent Stakeholders Advisory Committee meeting was posted on Urban Toronto by one of the participants. These drawings are preliminary are likely to change in advance of the public consultation. For that reason, and because SAC discussions are not intended for media distribution, I will not publish them here. The one exception is the area map above which is a revision of one in the report at Executive showing the correct alignment of New Cherry Street.