Ontario Line Downtown Construction: I – Queen Station

This is the first of a series of articles reviewing the plans for construction of the downtown Ontario Line stations between King/Bathurst and Corktown Station. The base document is a report at the Toronto Executive Committee’s meeting of December 7, 2021.

This is a long report detailing the effect of multi-year construction at six sites. Beginning with early works in 2022 and continuing to 2029, each of the sites will be at some stage in construction, although the exact timetable varies from station to station.

The project will involve many curb lane closures and associated effects on sidewalks, bike lanes and transit stops. As previously reported, there will be a complete road closure of Queen from Bay to Victoria for the construction of a deep and complex link there to the existing Line 1 Queen Station. Osgoode Station is a less complex project because there are fewer nearby buildings constraining the site, although it has its own challenges.

King/Bathurst and Queen/Spadina are similar to each other in that they will use shafts on two of the four corners of their intersections as the launch points for mining out the station caverns under the street.

Moss Park and Corktown Stations are both cut-and-cover locations, but Corktown has the added complexity of also being a site for the tunnel boring machine launch and for removal of spoil from the tunnel excavation.

Each site has other issues:

  • Volume of spoil from the excavations and the routes trucks will use to move material from six concurrent construction sites.
  • The constraints on emergency vehicles while road access is limited.
  • Local business and residential access.
  • Cycling lane effects.

In all of this, we must assume that traffic, transit, pedestrian and cycling demand will be at least at pre-covid levels, although there are likely to be shifts as some traffic “evaporates” in frustration.

This first article will deal with the most complex project: Queen Station. Next will come Osgoode, to be followed by the two western stations at Bathurst and Spadina, and then the eastern stations at Moss Park and Corktown. I will wrap up with a discussion of issues common to all sites.

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Metrolinx Don Valley Layover “Consultation” Update (Corrected)

Correction: Metrolinx has advised community members that the pop-up at Frankland School is one of a series of such events and is not intended as a formal consultation session given with almost no notice.

In their continued goal of always being right (one might say “Resistance Is Futile”), Metrolinx has published another article about why we just must have the Don Valley Layover track on the former Don Branch from roughly Rosedale Valley Road to the “Half Mile Bridge”.

There is little new in this article which re-iterates much previous material, but at greater length in an attempt to appear oh-so-reasonable.

Of particular interest is the sense that after resisting community input, Metrolinx appears to be softening their position. “Appears” is the operative word here.

While working on that, Metrolinx is making sure to protect the Don Valley, as the area sees this work to come later this month (December).

• Arborists (tree experts) will evaluate trees in the vicinity of the proposed layover
• Biologists will assess the habitat features in the adjacent area 
• Heritage experts will assess any impacts on heritage features in the area including the Prince Edward Viaduct
• Engineers will assess the current infrastructure.

Metrolinx initiated a procurement process for the technical advisor that will advance the design for the layover facility. In addition to architects and engineers, this team will include landscape architects and restoration experts.

Metrolinx expects to have the consultant on board early in 2022 to begin the initial design and work with the community.

What is not clear is whether there will actually be any change to the proposed design, or if this is a typical “consultation” where the community gets to choose the colour of the wallpaper.

There will be a pop-up consultation at Frankland School tonight (Dec 2) starting at 4:30 pm. What, you say you don’t know about this? That’s no surprise as Metrolinx does not mention it on their own engagement site, and few people who live in the area have heard of it. However, in due course it will serve the purpose of reassuring Metrolinx Board members and politicians that there has been “consultation”.

See correction text at the beginning of this article.

Metrolinx claims that the Don Branch is the only suitable location, but they have never addressed key questions:

  • Metrolinx claims that the “Rosedale Siding”, a second track on the GO Richmond Hill corridor west of the Don River, cannot be used for storage as it is required as a passing track. (Indeed with the recent diversion of VIA trains over this route, GO and VIA trains passed each other using this siding.) However, they fail to acknowledge that the right-of-way held three tracks, not two, in the past, and that a third track could be restored. (See photos in this article.)
  • Metrolinx claims that support buildings are required at this location even though a similar storage facility on the Lakeshore East corridor at Midland has no buildings and trains are simply parked there.
  • Metrolinx has not addressed a proposal to place the support buildings and parking, to the extent that they are actually required, at the north end of the layover track beside the Bayview/DVP connection road rather than at the Viaduct.
  • Metrolinx plans to use the Richmond Hill corridor as a turnback area for trains at Union Station. However, they are electrifying double track all the way to Pottery Road, far further than is needed as a turnback facility. This implies that the line will be used for something else, possibly storage of trains, but Metrolinx is silent on this.

Metrolinx talks about reduction in the footprint of the layover facility, but this typically refers to revisions made a few years ago when the proposed location was changed and some of the buildings were redesigned. They have not addressed why the buildings are needed if only between-rush hour storage is planned, as opposed to the ovenight operations that were contemplated in the original scheme.

By conflating changes made in the past with current community criticism, Metrolinx implies that they are altering their scheme today. That is misleading, as parliamentarians would say.

The whole matter of Metrolinx’ relationship with trees is fraught on many of their projects. Of particular concern is that they bring in an arborist to review the situation well after they pass the point of no return in design lockdown.

The site review they now plan is rather odd considering that the Environmental Assessment and Site Selection processes are complete. If they are truly contemplating reopening the question, this would run contrary to their approach on many projects where “consultation” proceeds while Metrolinx assumes that nothing will change and plans accordingly.

In a separate article, Metrolinx claims that the area to be occupied has already been disturbed by construction.

Placing these buildings immediately north of the viaduct will take advantage of construction that has already been done in the area. This is an area where green space was previously disturbed during the rehabilitation of the viaduct and there is already an access road in place to support an adjacent hydro facility.

That statement might have been valid for the originally proposed location south of the Viaduct which was used some years back as a staging area for work on the bridge. However, the area north of the Viaduct is treed as anyone can see looking down from the subway on the viaduct, and as I can simply by looking out my apartment window. Even the staging area south of the bridge has grown back in, and the idea that it is expendable because it was “disturbed” is no longer valid, but it suits Metrolinx to misrepresent actual conditions.

(For the record, I live in the building at the upper right of this image.)

Google Earth June 2021

At the heart of this debate is a fundamental distrust of Metrolinx’ intentions based on their dealings with many communities in many projects. “Trust” is not a word one would use.

I have no illusions that this work will be stopped, but wish that Metrolinx would stop trying to prove “the community” wrong and address real concerns about their proposals. This is a small part of a much larger project, but it shows just how things can go wrong with “public participation”.