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Anger growing in Thornhill neighbourhood atop planned Yonge North subway extension
May 13, 2021
Matthew Bingley

Residents in Thornhill are growing angrier over a recent decision to build a new subway extension under their neighbourhood, and are planning a weekend protest with the hopes of encouraging the Ontario government to change the route.

The Royal Orchard neighbourhood sits about a kilometre south of Highway 407, between Yonge Street and Bayview Avenue. In March the province’s transit authority, Metrolinx, detailed plans to shift a portion of the planned Yonge North subway extension under the neighbourhood.

Plans originally saw the transit route following its namesake street until just north of Highway 407, but rising cost projections were among the reasons Metrolinx cited for shifting the tunnels under Royal Orchard.

Residents have been voicing their concerns ever since, asking Metrolinx and the Ford government to reconsider the route or come up with a less disruptive alternative for their area.

“At night we hear nothing, which is amazing,” said Na’ama Zukier, who has lived in the neighbourhood since 2012.

She said she was looking forward to the subway’s construction along the Yonge Street corridor. Now Zukier said she’s feeling her anxiety rising with the thought of subways running under her quiet neighbourhood.

“It should not happen,” she said.

Zukier said she is concerned about the noise and vibrations as subways pass and worries those impacts will have a knock-on effect on local property values.

“We’re trying to make sure this doesn’t happen because there is another solution,” she said.

“There was another solution until two months ago.”

The head of media relations at Metrolinx said the decision to move the subway tunnel is due to a combination of factors. Among the reasons, Anne Marie Aikins said connecting the subway line to the existing CN rail corridor just beyond Royal Orchard will reduce tunnelling costs and keep the project within the original $5.6-billion funding envelope.

That price tag was the original cost for the 7.4-kilometre extension, which was originally going to include six stops. In the changes announced earlier this spring, the number of stations was reduced to four. Aikins said if the route proceeded on the original Yonge Street path, the number of stations would drop to just three.

Aikins also said Metrolinx is working to reduce noise and vibrations both during construction and when the subway is in operation. She said the top of the subway tunnels will be at least 14-metres from the surface.

“We haven’t built a subway in over 50 years, so technology has changed significantly,” she said.

“So we want to be able to talk to about the technology we’ll use, the noise mitigation efforts that we’re going to have in place, and just how deep this subway is going to go under their homes.”

While the tops of the tunnels will be about the equivalent of a four-storey building underground, area resident Ian Reid said he’s concerned about the changing grade as the subways leave the tunnel for the nearby CN tracks.

“As it exits our neighbourhood, it’s going to be shallower than , so we are 100 per cent convinced there is going to be severe impact on some homes more than others, but every home here is going to be impacted,” said Reid.

Reid, who has become a reluctant student of noise and vibration studies, said he’s worried some homes will become unlivable as more than 300 subway trains barrel through the tunnels each day.

Dozens of homes in the neighbourhood are already sporting signs in protest of the subway route. On Saturday, residents will be carrying signs like them as they hold a physically distanced protest along Yonge Street.

Janice Cardinale is helping organize the demonstration and said she hopes the government will take notice of how serious they are about preserving the place they love to live.

“I don’t believe in giving up in anything we’re going to do in this neighbourhood,” she said.

For Metrolinx’s part, Aikins noted the final plans have yet to be set in stone.

“It’s not finalized yet, so we’re bringing it to them so we can have a fulsome discussion, hear all of their concerns,” she said.

“I get they mistrust us, that’s totally understandable. But our job is to convince them — our job is to really work with them and make sure they fully understand what we’re doing and they know that it’s going to improve their lives, not make it worse,” Aikins said.

Cardinale remains optimistic the neighbourhood will be able to change the province’s mind. But Zukier is looking at the neighbourhood’s glass as half-empty.

“We’re just small people,” she said,

“This is politics, it’s money, it’s a lot bigger than we are.”