Subway environmental assessment enters the homestretch

A preferred route has been chosen for the Spadina subway extension from Downsview station to York University. On Thursday, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) showcased the route along with conceptual drawings for stations during an afternoon open house in the East Bear Pit of Central Square on York’s Keele campus.

Right: Third-year York cognitive sciences student Daniel Rotman listens as TTC project engineer Pierre Lauvin outlines the preferred alignment

Attendance was brisk as members of the York community flocked to the open house to see the result of a series of detailed public consultations. The preferred alignment, said TTC chief engineer Tom Middlebrook, makes the best use of the Keele corridor and offers a win-win for neighbourhoods and the TTC – it produces little interference for residential areas and green space; threads its way through commercial areas; and is a fairly straight route with a minimum of curves, which are costly to build and maintain.

The extension will provide improved connections between the TTC subway and GO Transit, York Region Transit, VIVA and TTC Buses. It will provide much-needed subway service to the Keele St.-Finch Ave. area of Toronto, York University and a new inter-regional transit terminal on Steeles Avenue. The subway extension will be about six kilometres and feature four new stations: Sheppard West connecting with the GO Bradford Line; Finch West at Keele St.; the York University Common; and Steeles Ave.West. The extension, which is environmentally sustainable, will reduce traffic congestion and pollution in the area.

There is still no money to construct the subway, said Middlebrook, who estimates the extension would cost $1.5 billion to build. In June, the federal government signed a deal giving Toronto $407.2 million in federal gas-tax cash. TTC and city of Toronto officials said there was still not enough money to build the extension. However, that may change, hinted Middlebrook. “There are many advocates for the project, but there certainly seems to be a groundswell of support for funding of the project. There is a lot of dialogue, there have been meetings about preparing a framework for financing the project, the province has set up a group through the Ministry of Public Infrastructure Renewal and there are more meetings scheduled to discuss how to finance the project,” said Middlebrook.

But no subway can be built without a completed environmental assessment. The next step will be to analyze the comments and data collected from the open house at York University and the public consultations held around the preferred route and develop a final environmental assessment (EA) report which will then be delivered to the provincial Ministry of the Environment for review. “We’ve done a lot of the refinement and gone through all the material collected from the EA study and come up with a recommended alignment for a four-station extension from Dufferin to Steeles,” said Middlebrook.

Right: The preferred alignment

“With the information collected from this phase, we are going to analyze the public comments on the preferred alignment and refine our recommendations,” he said. “We will be filing the EA report which contains a summary of all our recommendations, addresses the effects on the environment and details the mitigating measures, including construction techniques and the environmental aspects of construction. That report will summarize all the information and will be submitted to the ministry near the end of the year. 

“To submit that report, we have to first get approval from the TTC board, so we will go to the Nov. 24 TTC meeting. Then there is a meeting shortly after the TTC meeting of the planning, transportation and works committee of the city. Then we will take the report to the city council meeting,” explained Middlebrook. “Staff of York Region and Vaughan will also take separate reports to their respective councils. After all of that, we will then package everything for the Ministry of Environment.”

Left: The location of the York University station on the Keele campus

The ministry will then, over the course of a 30-week period, analyze the report and provide comments and recommendations. “Then they give it a thumbs up or thumbs down,” said Middlebrook. “I absolutely think it will be a thumbs up. The EA process is a planning process and is a process that says, given the same information, will others come up with the same recommendations. The TTC has been going through this extensive consultation which is a litmus test and I think we will pass the test.”

“We are very pleased with the preferred route and we think the station designs will continue to evolve,” said Ted Spence, senior policy advisor and executive director of York University’s Office of Institutional Research & Analysis. “The TTC got some very good feedback this morning at their stakeholder workshop at York University. The workshop included University stakeholders and representatives from other groups and there were about 50 people in attendance who provided some very positive feedback.”

During the first phase of the EA, route one was selected as the preferred route. (See the April 26, 2004 issue of YFile.) In phase two of the EA, the project team presented a series of alignments for the south and north sections within route one. Alternative bus terminal concepts were developed for the stations. (See the May 19, 2005 issue of YFile.) Phase three showcased the preferred alignment which has the fewest number of curves resulting in reduced operating and maintenance costs for the TTC. It also avoids a number of sensitive buildings on York’s Keele campus and preserves certain parcels on campus for short-term development.

Right: Areas highlighted in purple show the underground sections of the subway extension

From the Sheppard West Station and the Downsview Park lands, the subway will be constructed under Keele St. making use of the Keele St. right of way and minimizing impacts on private property. In the preferred alignment, the York University subway station is located in the York Common. The Common is a current transit hub serving over 70,000 faculty, staff and students. From the York University subway station, the subway will extend to the inter-regional transit terminal on Steeles Ave. The Steeles Ave. West station will provide access to the Northwest part of York’s Keele campus and Black Creek Pioneer Village.

The extension to the Jane and Highway 7 area is currently being planned and protected for by York Region and the city of Vaughan. The city of Toronto estimates that for every one dollar spent on the subway, two dollars are invested in the community by the private sector. 

For more information or to provide a comment online about the preferred alignment, visit the TTC Web site; click on the link to the Spadina extension to view the full presentation and descriptions of the EA process.