Metrolinx, the provincial organization charged with planning and building the Light Rail Transit (LRT) crosstown line along Eglinton Ave., announced a major change of plans affecting Leaside at a community consultation meeting Dec. 11.
Metrolinx no longer recommends having the trains emerge on the surface at or near Brentcliffe with the rest of the eastern line continuing on the surface. It now supports extending the underground line all the way to Don Mills Rd., tunnelling deep below both the Leslie St. ravine and the Don River. To compensate, Metrolinx would eliminate two LRT stations, at Leslie and, further east, at Ferrand Dr., thus creating a full two km distance between the Laird and Don Mills stations.
Why are these plans changed, and so late in the process? Metrolinx decided that there are “new property constraints” related to the still-uncompleted condominium on the south side of Eglinton, east of Brentcliffe: it would need temporary shoring to protect its foundations if the LRT’s tunnel ended at Brentcliffe as originally planned in 2010.
Metrolinx also cites potential traffic disruption along that stretch of the road, and disturbing contaminated soil next to the condominium, during construction.
These recommendations created considerable controversy among the hundred or so attendees who stayed for the question period.
By eliminating a station at Leslie, all Leslie buses would have to carry passengers to the sidewalks above Laird Station, turning the Laird/ Eglinton intersection into a street-level transportation hub, adding to congestion in the area. By extending and burying the underground tunnel so deep between Brentcliffe and Don Mills, there’s also a very significant cost factor.
It appears that Metrolinx has not seriously considered alternative options such as a bridge or viaduct above the ravine, for example. Why not?, some attendees asked. Toronto is a city of ravines, with existing viaducts carrying both subway trains and traffic. Besides, running a train through a longer tunnel requires higher energy operating costs.
Still others said that Metrolinx had underestimated development and ridership growth rates along Leslie St. in forecasting transit needs.
Additionally, the new Aga Khan Cultural Centre, which Toronto Star columnist Christopher Hume has called a “full fledged international destination,” is near the scrapped Ferrand Dr. station and would now necessitate a 500m walk from the nearest station.
The consensus among attendees was that Metrolinx is proposing a short-term strategy at great cost, and that when finished the LRT would already be out of date.
Many came away from the meeting convinced that Metrolinx had already decided to extend the tunnelling and were only “going through the motions” of the public meeting because the Environmental Assessment process required it.
Several noted that the TTC was not present to confirm that it could fill in the blanks.
Another meeting was called for, to include the TTC, local city councilors and MPPs, but according to Metrolinx there will be no further public consultation meetings.
The deadline for written comments from the public is Jan. 4. (The LPOA has asked MPP Kathleen Wynne to intervene and request a deferral of the consultation period.)
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