Ontario Line Downtown Construction: VI – Executive Committee Debate

On December 7, Toronto’s Executive Committee considered the long staff report on Ontario Line downtown construction effects on which I have previously reported. That report was supplemented by a staff presentation.

To watch the full presentation and debate click here [YouTube link].

Previous articles:

Although the Building Transit Faster Act gives Metrolinx the power to do whatever it wants in advancing this project, the City hopes that they will be a co-operative partner. Much of the debate turned on the effects of the long-term shutdowns, and to that end a long series of amendments was passed. Collectively, these seek to create a monitoring and reporting structure for the project and to ensure that the scope and duration of its effects are kept to a minimum.

This will be a challenging environment because unlike a TTC project, the primary relationship is between Metrolinx and their P3 partner, generically called “ProjectCo” pending a selection of a successful bidder, and the City/TTC have no power nor contractual relationship to enforce their will on the project.

Media coverage and political reaction has focused on the planned seven year closures at many sites. The staff presentation and comments repeated that the planned closures are the maximum that will be permitted, although what the City might do if the hole in the street has not been filled is anyone’s guess. The procurement includes an incentive to reduce the duration of closures, but it will be some time before we know whether “ProjectCo” will agree to a faster project at some or all of the stations.

Sidewalks and Cycle Tracks

Where a sidewalk must be closed and pedestrians diverted to the curb lane, this will be done with an enclosed structure, not simply a row of Jersey barriers.

According to the presentation, “ProjectCo” will be required to keep pedestrian routes safe and accessible by cleaning and by removal of snow and ice.

All bicycle lanes will be maintained and protected, and there will be a new cycle track on York Street. The report is silent on the accommodation of cyclists at pinch points where there is no formal cycling lane.

Updated Closure Maps

The closure maps in the presentation deck are at a better resolution those in the main report, and they appear below. Pedestrian pathways are shown in dotted green lines. Cycling lanes are more clearly marked, as are turning lane arrows.

Queen Station

Here is an updated version of the closure map for Queen Station.

A cutaway view of the station shows the geometry of various elements. Note that although the space above the concourse over the new station and below the existing underpass level at Queen Station appears to be empty, this area is actually unexcavated bedrock which will remain in place to support the existing subway structure. Construction will proceed first by digging down from Queen Street to the ends of the future station and then mining inward to create the station platform and concourse area.

The presentation includes a map of other projects that will occur in the same time frame as the Ontario Line’s construction. This map does not show everything that is in the hopper, notably:

  • Sewer rehabilitation work on Richmond, Wellington and Front listed in the main report but not shown on the map.
  • Water main projects listed in the report and other projects on the TOInview site are not all included on the map.
  • Reconstruction of York and Adelaide Streets to enable streetcar operation is not shown as a project affecting 2022.
  • Track replacement projects that are on TOInview for 2022 that overlap this area are not on the map:
    • College Street from Bay to Bathurst
    • Church and Wellington from King to Yonge

I asked the City about this, and they replied:

The Map is actually showing 2023 to 2027 projects but the title says 2022 and 2029 because it shows the OL yellow lane closure circles which start in Q4 2022 and end in 2029. The sewer rehab work referred to in the report was included in the modelling but in discussion with Toronto Water they will deliver this work using trenchless technology and so impacts will be minimal.

We can confirm that the projects you mention are still planned. The map wasn’t intended to be a complete picture of all construction work going on. It was intended to indicate the main projects that coincide with when Queen street would be closed (2023-end of 2027) as that is the period when there will be most disruption/impact.

Email from Hannah Stewart in City of Toronto Strategic Communications, December 9, 2021

On the subject of trenchless technology for sewer repairs, there is the question of lane occupancies at least for the access sites, and I have asked for further clarification on this point.

Modelling the Effects

Although the city-led projects will occur over several years, the effects were modeled as if they were concurrent. Moreover, there was no model run showing the Ontario Line works’ effects on their own. This begs the question of whether individual year-by-year conditions might not be as catastrophic as the traffic projections show.

In response to my query, the City advised:

The traffic modelling work was intended to ensure that Council have an appreciation for the potential scale of impacts of the OL works in the downtown area. To that end the focus was on the impacts with the planned City works running concurrently and the Queen street closure in place as that has the most network impact. In that respect, it was conservative as we stated. As staff it is important that City Council have confidence in the advice we provide them. By taking this approach we do not underplay the potential impacts.  

In terms of whether we should have done a run with no City-led projects to see what the Metrolinx changes do on their own, we didn’t do this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because that isn’t a situation that is going to occur and, secondly, because running the OL impacts on their own would we suspect have produced results showing impacts greater than the base but likely less than the “City-Led projects” scenario. As mentioned above we wanted to focus on, and advise City Council, of the most impact they could expect.

The work was not a “one-off” and we will be looking at the yearly impacts so that mitigation measures, including things like signal timing changes and TSP requirements, are appropriate for the construction underway. On streetcar travel times we will be working closely with TTC to understand the impacts on their surface running transit (so not just streetcars) and working with them to try to minimise those impacts.

Email from Hannah Stewart, op. cit.

East From Corktown

There is a small but important leg of the route south and east from Corktown Station to the Don River where the OL will cross on a bridge at the same elevation as the railway to enter East Harbour Station. How this would be built is of some consequence because it runs right under a parking area beside a residential building.

Metrolinx has been unwilling to reply to a question about this segment, but the City was more forthcoming:

The section from Corktown Station to Don Yard will be tunneled with a cut and cover portal in Don Yard. Corktown Station will be cut and cover.

Email from Hannah Stewart, op. cit.

Haul Routes

The main report includes separate maps of haul routes for each site. These are not yet finalized. I suggested to the City that these would be better presented on a consolidated map to make the combined effect visible. They replied:

Thanks for the suggestion and with hindsight it would probably have made more sense to have one combined Haul route plan in the Council report. That said, the routes outlined are not yet agreed. ProjectCo, once appointed, will develop their thoughts on those and the City/MX and ProjectCo will work together to refine them and minimise impacts on all road users, especially pedestrians and cyclists, the network as a whole and businesses and residents. We would certainly expect, and want, this work to include the mapping you suggest.

Email from Hannah Stewart, op. cit.

A Construction Hub and Communications

The City will establish a hub for co-ordination of all projects in the area to ensure that there are no surprises from public or private agencies and companies. The intent is to minimize work on parallel routes and have a single point of contact for coordination.

There will be dedicated traffic agents at key locations, and construction truck staging/idling on roads will no be allowed, according to the presentation.

The City plans to hold monthly Construction Liaison meetings including Councillors, businesses, and residents. There will be Community Outreach meetings and BIA Meetings throughout the project.

Amendments:

Motions
1 – Motion to Amend Item (Additional) moved by Councillor Paul Ainslie (Carried)
That the Executive Committee recommend that:  
1. City Council request the Toronto Transit Commission to include, in future reports, information on what is being done to maintain and advance time availability of its surface fleet in the construction area, in particular, streetcars.
2 – Motion to Amend Item (Additional) moved by Mayor John Tory (Carried)
That:
1. City Council direct the General Manager, Transportation Services to implement all measures to manage construction sites with the least impact to traffic, including time of day and direction of travel restrictions, and flexible work zone setups.
2. City Council direct the General Manger, Transportation Services and the Executive Director, Transit Expansion to engage with Metrolinx and establish criteria/requirements that can be shared with Proponents on the Ontario Line and all other MX transit expansion projects that mitigate traffic and transit impacts, and require Proponents to coordinate construction activities that impact traffic with City staff.
3. City Council direct the General Manger, Transportation Services and the Executive Director, Transit Expansion to engage with Metrolinx and the successful Proponents on options to reduce the duration of construction and road closures associated with the Ontario Line.
4. City Council direct the City Manager to host Senior Executives from utility companies to reaffirm the City’s direction to reduce overall construction schedules and restrict work in active lanes of traffic to off-peak hours.
5. City Council direct the General Manager, Transportation Services to refresh training with staff, contractors and external partners such as Metrolinx on proper work zone set ups including the necessary planning and schedule of activities that are required to manage the work zone, which may include items such as implementation of advanced signage, and timely removal of work zone equipment as soon as possible.
6. City Council direct the General Manager, Transportation Services and the Chief Engineer and Executive Director, Engineering and Construction Services to move forward on technology improvements that will assist with longer term capital planning, while also supporting the review and coordination of utility “short stream” and private development lane occupancy applications; and developing Key Performance Indicators to track progress over time that can be communicated to the public.
7. City Council direct the General Manager, Transportation Services, the Chief Engineer and Executive Director, Engineering and Construction Services and the Executive Director, Transit Expansion to engage a third party review of best practices in comparable cities related to construction zone management, capital program planning and delivery, traffic modeling and mitigation and perform a peer review of the current City of Toronto construction coordination activities and recommend both short term and long term process improvements.
8. City Council request Metrolinx to pay the full costs for the additional traffic mitigation positions needed to manage the Ontario Line project.
9.  City Council direct the City Manager and the General Manager, Transportation Services to report on road safety impacts for vulnerable road users through the downtown and report back to the March 30, 2022 meeting of the Executive Committee, such report to include but not limited to:
a. bike lanes, cycle tracks, and connection;
b. sidewalks and pedestrian pathways;
c. priority signals for transit; and
d. advance and clear communication to the local community.
10.  City Council direct the General Manager, Transportation Services to include a requirement for Paid-Duty Officers and/or Traffic Agents and/or Trained Traffic Control Persons at each construction site to facilitate safe passage for all, especially vulnerable road users.
11. City Council direct the General Manager, Transportation Services and the Executive Director, Transit Expansion to record and monitor traffic counts and movement, public safety at intersections and sidewalks, all complaints and resolutions, and to report back on findings and additional recommendations for adjustments on a bi-annually basis to the Toronto and East York Community Council with a written quarterly update to the local Councillor’s office, to include but not limited to:
a. vehicle movements, and travel patterns;
b. pedestrian counts; and
c. cyclist movements and travel patterns.
12. City Council direct the General Manager, Transportation Services and the Executive Director, Transit Expansion to request an annotated traffic management plan from Metrolinx following the procurement process or approvals from the City of Toronto, including but not limited to:
a. construction vehicle travel paths to and from the site, and pick-up locations;
b. cycling connections; and
c. pedestrian movements.
13. City Council direct the City Manager, the General Manager, Transportation Services and the Executive Director, Transit Expansion to request that Metrolinx require Project Co to ensure timely responsive service to local residents and stakeholders with respect to each construction site and report back to the March 30, 2022 meeting of the Executive Committee, including:
a. actively patrol each construction site;
b. be available 24 hours, 7 days a week; and
c. provide real-time response to complaints raised by residents and local stakeholders.
14. City Council request Metrolinx, in consultation with the City Manager and the Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer, to develop a framework of subsidizing and reimbursing businesses impacted by the construction of the Ontario Line in an effort to support downtown recovery, including but not limited to:  
a. commercial rent subsidies;
b. deferring, delaying, or adjusting property tax rates;
c. something signage and wayfinding; and
d. advertising in all major media outlets and social media.
15. City Council request Metrolinx, in consultation with the City Manager, the General Manager, Economic Development and Culture and the Business Improvement Areas, to design and broadly promote a Support the Downtown campaign wherein residents and visitors to the downtown can enjoy rebates, subsidies, financial discounts when they shop at businesses impacted by the Ontario Line construction.
16. City Council direct the City Manager, the General Manager Transportation Services, the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning, and the Executive Director, Transit Expansion, in consultation with local Business Improvement Areas and the ward Councillor, to explore enhanced streetscape improvements to the right of way as part of the construction of the Ontario Line, to be funded by Metrolinx and the Province of Ontario.
17. City Council request Metrolinx, in consultation with the General Manager, Transportation Services and the Executive Director, Transit Expansion, to work with local Business Improvement Areas, Urban Design and the ward Councillor to minimize disruption and beautify the road closures during the multi-year construction period, funded by Metrolinx and the Province of Ontario, including but not limited to:
a. public art;
b. planters and other barriers that are not concrete; and
c. any other additions to improve pedestrian wayfinding and user experience.
18. City Council direct the General Manager Transportation Services to establish a Construction Hub in the downtown area to be led by a Senior Project Manager who will ensure coordination between Metrolinx works, City-led projects, private developer works, and utility works and report annually to City Council.

7 thoughts on “Ontario Line Downtown Construction: VI – Executive Committee Debate

  1. Every time I look at the Queen station layout I get sad that the transfer seems to be so bad. Do we know if the other transfer stations (Osgoode) will be the same? With the Cost of the Bloor-Yonge upgrade, has Metrolinx costed out improved transfers?

    Steve: Metrolinx has not published a layout for Osgoode Station, but I expect it will be comparably deep. The Relief Line design had the platform 32m below ground, 3 levels down from the existing Osgoode Station platform.

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  2. So, two main routes from shoulders into downtown core are getting hosed: Queen for the subway construction and King for the track reconstruction (and let’s be frank it’ll probably be longer than just 2024). A bit of Dundas East too. Is there any plan for us to get downtown until 2030 at all, or does Metrolinx not care? Is there any plan to keep any transit corridors clear of private vehicles, or does the City not care?

    Steve: Planning for this seems to dwell a lot on making motorists’ life less unbearable. I will believe transit priority measures beyond a few signs, some paint and the odd traffic warden when I see them.

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  3. The only hope is the voters dump Ford and the new guy dumps the Ontario Line! This is what happened when Mike Harris took over from Bob Rae and dumped the Eglinton Subway. Standard procedure. Can’t be any good because the “other guy” thought of it!

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  4. Not only will Queen and King be disrupted, 510 and 509 will probably not serving Union station for much of this period because of the loop expansion.

    Perhaps they should try and put off the King track rebuild until after Queen is open.

    Steve: A big issue with King will be the timing of work on various sections relative to any other city work, together with the wild card of whether they include other projects such as water main replacements that tend to take forever and discover lots of unexpected problems. The track replacement should be straightforward except for a few intersections that need to be replaced, notably at Church and at York. Ideally these should be done early, but I doubt that’s how the plans are set up or even if the TTC has ordered the track yet. There is a tangent track replacement on Church south from King in 2022 and this would be an ideal time to do the intersection as well. On York, new curves should be added east to north at King, and north to east at Adelaide as part of the changes for the OL diversion. This would leave only tangent track replacement which is quite fast on the new roadbed. Other changes are planned for King related to building permanent curb extensions at transit stops, but these can be done independently of the track work and would not change the road’s capacity from the current layout.

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  5. Ideally they will plan for York track returning to two-way in the short block from Adelaide to King when they re-do the trackwork on Adelaide and York north of Adelaide in 2022-2023. In particular, when they install the Adelaide/York special track-work. Even if it remains unconnected south of Adelaide, it would then be easy to add that short block of tangent track when King/York is replaced. That too would impact the King/York special track possibilities.

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  6. Metrolinx has changed their proposed Richmond Hill subway route to reduce negative effects on homes in Thornhill. How rich of them!

    I guess there aren’t any are negative effects from needing to truck millions of cubic metres of dirt fill to Riverside during construction or having thousands of pint-sized Scarborough RT trains rolling back and forth afterwards to make up for their lack of size.

    Anyone with a brain knows Metrolinx and their talking heads are full of crap precisely because of BS like this.

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