Smooth sailing for York commuters as road reopens

After five months, numerous traffic headaches and a 24/7 schedule for work crews, the City of Toronto has finally reopened a portion of Finch Avenue West that was washed away by a flash flood on Aug. 19, 2005.

Right: The damage to Finch Ave. following the storm

The opening of the two-lane bridge which traverses Black Creek took place on Friday. 

“I’m thankful the road is finally, finally open,” said a very happy Betty Narda, a local resident. “Every night they worked and worked, you have no idea of the noise but, it was worth it!”

Narda, 57, along with a small crowd of area residents, watched as Toronto City Councillor Peter LiPreti offically declared the road open. “After $5 million and our crews working 24 hours a day, seven days a week for five months, this road is finally open,” said LiPreti. “It has been an unbelievable task and we have been extremely lucky with the warm weather this winter…I guess you could call it compensation for the destruction on August 19.”

Left: Traffic flows again along Finch Ave. over Black Creek

Over 40,000 cars a day travel along the stretch of Finch Ave., just west of Sentinel Road, that was affected by the flood. LiPreti said the repair to the roadway posed a huge technical challenge. “The damage was unprecedented,” he said. “There was a huge gash and 43 feet of road was destroyed. The city had to bring in a special new culvert designed to handle 20 times more capacity, or 200 millimetres of rainfall, in case future torrential rains cause flash flooding. Local businesses, families and communities were divided by the damage, and the economic cost has been huge in terms of lost revenue to small businesses due to rerouting of traffic.”

Right: Toronto City Councillor Peter LiPreti talks to the media during the reopening of Finch Ave. on Friday.

The disruption to traffic along Finch caused commuters to flood onto York’s Keele campus by way of Shoreham, Pond and Sentinel roads for the past five and a half months (see stories in the Aug. 23, 2005 and Sept. 15, 2005 issues of YFile). Many residents of neighbouring communities were forced to use York University as a detour and the City of Toronto was redirecting traffic through the campus. The detour strategy often caused gridlock both in and around York’s Keele campus. The reopening of Finch will ease traffic congestion both on campus and along Toronto Transportation Commission bus routes serving the campus. Trucks will still be diverted along Sheppard and Steeles avenues until all work has been completed.

“The closure of Finch Avenue certainly had a significant impact on York during the first part of the school year,” said Andy Wickens, York assistant vice-president, campus services & business operations. “The partial opening of the road today should help a great deal and we look forward to the full opening later in the year. The York community should give itself a collective pat on the back for having got through this difficult situation with patience and good humour,” Wickens added.

Right and below: Going, going, gone! Two photographs shows the destruction of Finch Ave. on Aug. 19, 2005.

LiPreti paid tribute to the City of Toronto staff, Dufferin Construction, area residents and businesses, and the York University community. “York University will finally be relieved of all the expenditures related to controlling the huge traffic flow that had to be routed through the campus,” said LiPreti. “I have been told the opening will take 20 to 30 minutes off the commuting time.” 

While the roadway has been reopened, LiPreti was quick to point out that a significant amount of work still remains to be completed. “We won’t know the final cost for a while,” he said. “There is still a huge amount of work to rebuild the cable and gas lines that were destroyed by the flood.”

Rain gauges for Environment Canada recorded a total rainfall of 153mm on Aug. 19. The  damage caused by the washout of Finch Ave. included the destruction of two high pressure gas mains, Bell Canada cable, watermains, Toronto Hydro and Rogers cable and a park pathway.

The storm, affecting most of Southern Ontario, was the most expensive natural disaster in Canadian history with insurance payouts topping $400 million.