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Don't expand the Yonge subway into York Region: Editorial

A York Region push to expand the Yonge subway north to Richmond Hill threatens to further jam an already over-crowded system.
July 11, 2016

There may be a case some day for pushing the Yonge subway north to Richmond Hill - but not now, and perhaps not even 20 years from now. Given current crowding it would be utterly irresponsible to lengthen the route to introduce another 165,000 daily riders.

But that isn’t stopping York Region politicians from rashly pressing for a seven-kilometre subway extension. As reported by the Star’s Ben Spurr, York has launched a public relations campaign aimed at pressuring Ottawa and Queen’s Park to fund this ill-advised project.

A “Yonge Subway Now!” website is up and running urging “everyone to get on board” and back the expansion. It includes a petition, optimistic statistics, and a “wall of support” section where people are encouraged to post photos of themselves holding signs bearing slogans such as: “Full funding NOW.”

Earlier this year 16 York Region mayors, councillors and senior staff travelled to Ottawa and met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on this issue. And last month, responding to York’s pleas, the provincial government announced it would provide $55 million to fund planning and design work on the proposed route. The new PR campaign is meant to maintain momentum in the wake of that announcement.

One might admire the determination of York Region politicians if it wasn’t for such an ill-conceived purpose.

Toronto Transit Commission officials have quite rightly warned that the Yonge line simply can’t absorb a deluge of new riders from York. And it won’t be in a position to do so until completion of the long-awaited subway “relief line.” That will require at least $6.8 billion, which hasn’t yet been allocated, and the project might take decades to complete.

York officials are counting on finding some breathing space on the Yonge line in the next few years through congestion-easing efforts that are already underway. These include measures to upgrade the subway’s signal system and automatic controls, allowing trains to run more often. But even with such initiatives, the already-packed Yonge line is projected to reach a crisis point after 2031.

If a relief line isn’t open by then, thousands of York Region riders will only exacerbate the crunch. And given the lethargic pace of subway construction in Canada’s largest city, it’s not at all certain that relief will arrive in time.

Under these circumstances it would be reckless to build a northern extension of the Yonge line. The aggressive sales pitch coming from York Region can’t change that reality.