Waterfront LRT Update, June 2022

This is the second article in a series of transit project updates. See also:

Toronto’s Executive Committee will consider reports updating the status of various projects at its meeting of June 8, 2022 including:

The section of this report covering the Waterfront projects is a tad on the threadbare side compared to previous iterations such as the presentation almost a year ago. With luck there will be more detail in presentation materials at the meeting.

The report text implies that there have been design changes but does not go into details. One might hope for additional information when staff presents the report.

Cherry Street

At the eastern end, the Waterfront line is projected to end on Cherry somewhere on Villiers Island. It is not clear whether the southern terminus of the WELRT on Cherry will be north or south of the new river. Some reports and drawings talk of the line going south of Villiers Island to the ship channel, but the current report talks of a new loop within Villiers Island itself (i.e. north of the new river). Note that the map above includes an arrow showing a potential extension south over the new river as well as east on Commissioners.

Wherever the new loop is, it will replace the existing Distillery Loop which conflicts with the new alignment for the streetcar tracks and underpass at the GO corridor. The old Cherry Street signal tower, a remnant of the days when the rail corridor was operated with manual switchgear, will be shifted east from its current location south of Distillery Loop to accommodate the new tracks.

For those unfamiliar with the area, Cherry Street will have three water crossings. From north to south on the map above:

  1. At the Keating Channel, a pair of new bridges (one for road traffic, one for LRT) are located west of the existing Cherry Street crossing. The LRT bridge is in place, and the road bridge immediately to the west will soon follow.
  2. The new outlet of the Don River is under construction, but still dry. If the WELRT goes south to the ship channel, there will have to be an LRT span here just as at the Keating Channel. The road bridge is in place waiting for New Cherry Street to be completed to connect with it.
  3. At the Ship Channel, Cherry Street will veer east back to its current alignment and use the existing bascule bridge. There is no intention for the LRT line to cross this channel.

A two-span bridge takes Commissioners Street over the future Don River (outside of the map above). Today, there is only a road span in place, high and dry over the new riverbed. When and if the Broadview streetcar extension to Commissioners is built along with an east-west link from Cherry to Broadview (and maybe beyond to Leslie Barns), then a transit bridge will be added.

There is a video on Waterfront Toronto’s media site with a May 2022 flyover of the project.

The new alignment for Cherry Street is now under construction.

Cost Containment

The currently projected cost for the WELRT is over $2-billion 2021$. Various design options for both the underground and surface portion of the line are under review, but there are few details of this work in the report.

A value engineering exercise is underway by the TTC which includes consideration of scope refinements, such as a refined 4-platform solution at Union Station and some improvements to the Ferry Terminal Station at Queens Quay. [p. 14]

Queens Quay East

There are still plans to fill part of the Yonge Street slip, and the report mentions a future park east of the skip. However, it is silent on the scheme to reorient the entrance of the Harbour Castle hotel to face east toward the slip.

Parliament Slip will also be partly filled and this will allow the WELRT to continue straight east on the new alignment of Queens Quay to reach New Cherry Street. This is intended to become a major destination in the eastern harbour.

Construction Phasing and Co-ordination

The WELRT be built in an area that already is a major construction site for projects including the Ontario Line, the GO corridor expansion, and the realignment of the Gardiner/DVP connection.

Still outstanding is the question of building and opening the new streetcar route across Queens Quay first so that it can operate independently of the Bay Street tunnel and the planned extended closure for reconstruction at Union and Queens Quay Stations.

The Next Round

A Stakeholders’ meeting is planned for June 20, and these usually precede a wider public consultation round. There are many questions to be answered about just which options are now on the table.

The next major report by the project will be to the new Council in the second quarter of 2023 as part of a wider review of Waterfront revitalization. By that time, design work will be at the 30% level for whatever option staff will recommend.

One obvious challenge for this and many other projects is that funding to build them is not in place, and they will compete with other priorities for attention.

9 thoughts on “Waterfront LRT Update, June 2022

  1. You say: “One obvious challenge for this and many other projects is that funding to build them is not in place, and they will compete with other priorities for attention.”

    Though the plan for QQE has varied slightly since planning started well over a decade ago (“transit first”!), surely the funding is the main reason it has not progressed beyond lots of talk and (some) design. Until funding is there we will clearly be waiting a while longer, sadly!

    Steve: Moreso that the focus has all been on suburban projects with Waterfront always left behind. City building takes a back seat to buying votes every time.

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  2. Waterfront East LRT is not needed due to the highly anticipated SmartTrack. Waterfront West LRT is not needed due to the construction of the Ontario Line.

    Steve: SmartTrack is a myth consisting of only a handful of stations, not a net new service. The closest stations to the Waterfront East are at East Harbour (OL + GO) and Corktown (OL), and neither is exactly convenient. As for Waterfront West, it ends at Union and if extended is as likely to swing north to the Bloor subway as continue west. Your geography needs checking.

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  3. Steve, you wrote that

    “Wherever the new loop is, it will replace the existing Distillery Loop which conflicts with the new alignment for the streetcar tracks and underpass at the GO corridor.”

    Does that mean that the new loop would be home to the 504 King cars that currently use Distillery Loop? Thanks.

    Steve: Yes, assuming that the configuration of the King car does not change once there is a through connection from Queens Quay East to King via Cherry.

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  4. Steve said:

    A two-span bridge takes Commissioners Street over the future Don River (outside of the map above). Today, there is only a road span in place, high and dry over the new riverbed. When and if the Broadview streetcar extension to Commissioners is built along with an east-west link from Cherry to Broadview (and maybe beyond to Leslie Barns), then a transit bridge will be added.

    Is there a reason why that east-west connection along Commissioners to Leslie Barns is such a low priority?

    It would allow vehicles to enter and exit service more quickly vs all queuing up to turn at Queen and Leslie, and provide some alternate routes in case Queen Street is blocked by an accident.

    And it has to be cheaper and less disruptive to build it now while so much earthwork and construction is already going on, rather than waiting until the road is rebuilt and people are living/working there.

    Steve: Most of the connection to Leslie Barns lies outside of the construction area for the realigned river, east of the Don Roadway. In the portion west of the Don Roadway, the space for an LRT right-of-way has been left for future use, but actual construction, including the LRT bridge, is not in the current budget.

    Yes, a second link to Leslie Barns would be useful, but it would be 1.75 km of new construction from Don Roadway to Leslie. There is also a major Hydro corridor in the middle of Commissioners Street that will have to be relocated to make room for the new tracks between Don Roadway and Bouchette Street. All of this is a major project in its own right.

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  5. Getting this project funded remains a problem. Would it be any easier to fund if the order of implementation changes?

    Phase 1 could be the section along Cherry from Distillery Loop to Polson Loop, likely a cheaper project than the Union Loop expansion.

    Steve: The order of implementation is already likely to see the link to Union go second after an east-west through line is completed on Queens Quay. However, that Union link is very important to linking homes, jobs and schools on the waterfront to the rest of the city.

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  6. > Waterfront East LRT is not needed due to the highly anticipated SmartTrack.

    SmartTrack has been highly anticipated ever since John Tory was first elected. *checks calendar* what’s that? That was back when Obama was U.S. president? SmartTrack must be sure to solve all of Toronto transit problems any decade now, or at least those in areas currently near a GO line.

    > Waterfront West LRT is not needed due to the construction of the Ontario Line.

    Is this satire? The closest Ontario Line comes to Waterfront West is the Exhibition station which is between CNE and Lib Village. Then it goes northeast, away from the waterfront. If it is ever extended, the province’s crayon plan is to have it go northwest, away from the waterfront.

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  7. With Doug Ford having no political rivals, we might be looking at another Ford majority in 2026 which means that it won’t be well into the 2030s that Waterfront LRT begins construction if ever at all.

    Steve: Considering the number of developers of property in the eastern waterfront who are lobbying for the WELRT to be completed as soon as possible, and considering how Ford just loves to keep developers happy, I think that your analysis is a tad off.

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  8. Steve, I have to get your thoughts on something. I see this huge investment going into Metrolinx. Douge being the scum bag that he is…. there is a feeling that all this investment is an attempt to pour public money into a system in preparation for it to be sold off to private interests at huge loss to the public. I hate to think this way, but it seems highly suspect that he is dishing out all this money. Since when has he ever had the public interest in mind? I hope I’m just grasping at straws because the loss of Go Transit or Metrolinx assets into private hands would be awful.

    Steve: The transit network is in many ways being privatized through construction and operating contracts while the financial risk (that transit is not a money-making proposition) stays with the government.

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  9. I understood in July 2021 that city staff preferred that the Waterfront LRT end at Polson Loop rather than at a new Distillery Loop because of potential construction conflicts with the Ontario Line and Gardiner Expressway reconstruction in the area of the current Distillery Loop. Has the city changed its mind on construction risk?

    Steve: Distillery Loop will disappear when the line is extended further south because the through route will conflict with the existing loop. See A New Vision for Cherry Street. The issue now is whether to have the loop on the north side of the new Don River or north of the Ship Channel. This has not yet been decided.

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