Ontario Line would run on just 3 kilometres of city’s relief line route, confidential plans show
July 23, 2019
Confidential plans for Premier Doug Ford’s Ontario Line show it would deviate significantly from the route of Toronto’s proposed relief line subway, raising questions about whether the province can complete the major transit project as quickly as promised.
Ford has called the Ontario Line the “crown jewel” of the $28.5-billion transit plan he announced in April. The government has pitched the 15.5-kilometre line as a bigger, better and cheaper replacement for the relief line, which many experts see as Toronto’s most pressing transit priority.
But an unpublished summary of the initial business case Metrolinx completed for the project that the Star has obtained suggests it would follow less than three kilometres of the proposed path of the 7.4-kilometre relief line. The summary hasn’t been made public but was shared with the TTC and city earlier this month.
Ford’s government has said it can build the Ontario Line by 2027, at least two years faster than the relief line, in part because the province could piggyback on extensive planning work the city and TTC had carried out for the relief line.
Councillor Paula Fletcher (Ward 14, Toronto-Danforth) said the province’s decision to change the route so significantly from the city’s proposal would result in “a major setback.”
A comparison of the province's Ontario Line and city's relief line plans.
“The relief line was practically shovel ready , This is a brand new kettle of fish,” said Fletcher, who represents a ward that would be served by both the city’s and province’s version of the plan.
“This is a dog’s breakfast, changing in midstream. It sets us back many years.”
In a written statement, Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster didn’t answer specific questions about the planning document, but defended the Ontario Line project.
“Toronto needs more than a subway, it needs a better transit network, and this is precisely what the new Ontario Line will deliver,” he said.
“If you live in Thorncliffe Park, your commute to the heart of downtown will become 26 minutes -- not 42 -- freeing up more time for what is important to you. This is just one example of how our plan will provide stronger connections, a better travel experience, and make a real difference in people’s lives.”
Like the council-approved relief line, the Ontario Line would provide a second rapid transit route into the downtown core in order to take pressure off of the overcrowded Line 1 subway, but it would extend about twice as far and deliver transit to underserved neighbourhoods south of Eglinton Ave. and at Liberty Village.
So far, the Progressive Conservative government has stayed tight-lipped about the project. The province has shared limited information about the plan with the TTC and city, and last week refused to confirm to the Star whether it had completed the initial business case for the project, something it had pledged to do by the end of June.
After the Star began asking questions about the summary of the business case it obtained, Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney announced Monday on Twitter that the study was complete.
While earlier maps showed the Ontario Line would roughly follow the path of the relief line along Queen St. and Eastern Ave. between Osgoode subway station and a new GO Transit stop planned for East Harbour, the document obtained by the Star shows the province’s route would dip south to follow the path of GO’s Lakeshore East rail corridor, where it would be built above ground until a point north of Gerrard St.
Instead of a station at Sumach and Adelaide Sts., as proposed under the relief line, the summary shows an Ontario Line Corktown stop southwest of that. The summary also shows the Ontario Line would have a Leslieville station on the western side of the Lakeshore East GO corridor, instead of a proposed relief line stop to the east of the corridor at Queen St. and Carlaw Ave.
The document describes the proposed 15-station route as a “representative alignment” that is subject to further study.
How much time it will take to finalize a new route for the Ontario Line is unclear.
According to municipal planning officials, TTC and city staff spent about three years working to complete an environmental assessment for the relief line and advancing the project to a 15 per cent design stage. They were planning to start construction on early works for the subway as soon as 2020, with completion scheduled for as early as 2029.
Those plans were effectively scuttled with Ford’s announcement of the Ontario Line, which remains at a very early planning stage. TTC officials told council last month the province’s plan was at about 2 per cent design.
Last month, the province passed legislation that allows it to take control of new transit projects in Toronto, part of its plan to take ownership of the TTC subway system.
A majority of councillors opposed the provincial takeover of the network, and Councillor Brad Bradford (Ward 19, Beaches-East York) said changes to the Ontario Line route were indicative of why.
“The province is trying to move forward significant changes to the plans that are in place, and they’re carrying on that work without us, and I think that’s very damaging, and at the end of the day we’re going to see significant delays,” he said.
He predicted the Ontario Line won’t be built by the province’s 2027 deadline.
“I think while most of council has tried to stay balanced and see where this goes, we’re getting to the point now where it’s very concerning.”
In addition to revealing a potential new route, the business case summary shows the Ontario Line would be built above ground, either on an elevated guideway or on the surface separated from traffic, for up to six kilometres of its 15.5-kilometre length.
In addition to the section that would run in the Lakeshore East corridor, the above ground portions would be at the very western end of the line, which the map shows would terminate at Exhibition GO station on the Lakeshore West corridor, and at its northern segment, where it would cross over the Don River twice and terminate at the Ontario Science Centre.
Building the line above ground could make it cheaper to construct, but to do so will also require using smaller, lighter trains than TTC subways. The province says smaller vehicles would be operated close together and still provide enough passenger carrying capacity to divert a significant number of passengers off of Line 1.
The presentation says the Ontario Line would reduce crowding at Bloor station by 17 per cent, compared to just a 12 per cent reduction from the relief line. It also shows the province’s plan would serve 34,000 low-income residents, while the relief line would serve just 19,000.
In April, the government projected the capital costs for the Ontario Line at $10.9 billion, but the confidential summary suggests that could increase.
The document lists the total capital costs for the Ontario Line, which would include property acquisitions and professional services, at between $9.5 billion and $11.4 billion, although it states that could be reduced to between $8.2 billion and $8.8 billion by using a procurement model known as public private partnership that’s designed to shift financial risk to the private sector.
The summary lists the total capital costs of the relief line at between $6.2 billion and $7.5 billion.
Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins said the Ontario Line budget is not expected to increase, but declined to answer further questions.
While building above ground could be easier in sections, the Metrolinx summary indicates there would still be some significant engineering challenges to completing the Ontario Line.
It highlights three “constructability issues” with the line: the need to co-ordinate its construction in active GO corridors while Metrolinx plans to increase GO train service; crossing the Don River over two bridges in its northern segment; and integrating the western segment with the existing Exhibition GO station beneath the Gardiner Expressway.
While the Ford government has described the line as linking the Ontario Science Centre to Ontario Place, like previous maps released by the province the newer plan shows the line ending at Exhibition, more than half a kilometre from Ontario Place.
A spokesperson for Mayor John Tory didn’t directly answer questions about whether the mayor is concerned about the new proposed alignment for the Ontario Line.
“Mayor Tory has been clear that he is focused on getting transit built and avoiding delays that will slow down our progress delivering long-promised projects,” said Don Peat in a statement.
He said city officials are expected to report to council in October with their assessment of the province’s transit plan.
Stuart Green, a spokesperson for the TTC, also declined to answer specific questions about the Metrolinx document.