TTC approves city-spanning Eglinton transit line

$4.6-billion line would tentatively open 2016

The city-spanning Eglinton rail line is heading to Toronto Council at the end of the month, after commissioners on the Toronto Transit Commission voted to send the proposed environmental assessment for the massive transit project forward.

Once it’s in place in 2016, the $4.6-billion line will be carrying light rail vehicles along 30 kilometers between Pearson Airport and Kennedy Station. The middle third of it will travel underground like a subway – and the 43 proposed stops will be spaced between 400 and 500 metres apart.

While commissioners sent the project forward to council, the scope of the plan and some of the solutions it’s taken to deal with traffic issues made some nervous.

In particular, the project will drastically reduce the number of left turns that cars and trucks can make along Eglinton.

Nine intersections – at Kipling, Islington, Royal York, Scarlett, Jane, Victoria Park, Pharmacy and Birchmount – will require vehicles wishing to turn left to continue through the intersection, cross the track at new signalized intersections further along and perform a U-turn, then turn right.

The relatively complicated maneuver will be necessary, according to TTC engineers, to ensure that the new light rail vehicles will be able to make good time as they cross the city.

But commissioner Peter Milczyn worried that the requirement would lead to traffic problems in the suburban parts of the city such as his own home turf in Etobicoke Lakeshore.

“With this type of approach, I can see the logic of it in a more downtown location where there are significant left turn prohibitions in any case, and it’s not unusual to have to make a number of right turns around a block to make a left turn, I worry about what happens when you translate this to a very suburban location where Eglinton for a large portion in Etobicoke acts as a huge on-ramp for the 401 to 427,” he said. “Maybe this makes sense, but I haven’t seen the backup to justify that – and I’ve heard no explanation of what the implications of this are for traffic. Maybe there are none.”

In fact, project engineer Mitch Stambler said the TTC’s computer traffic modeling shows that the u-turn system is preferable to allowing left turns.

“By managing this with a half-signal, the microsimulation analyses suggest that it will improve traffic considerably,” he said. “So it’s far better for LRT operations, it’s better in most cases for pedestrians who will have a shorter wait time to cross the intersections, and better for the left turns themselves who will be better accommodated not having to wait for the transit movements to occur.”

The project will also see significant property acquisitions along the route – a total of 45 properties along the line, including 26 in the vicinity of Weston Road. That will be necessary to widen the street to accommodate the new centre lane.

The TTC will be holding a briefing for commissioners and councillors prior to the meeting of council, to iron out any questions or details in the plan – and will be embarking on another seven public consultations to add to the dozen that have already taken place.

And generally, commissioners were excited.

“Basically this is great – it’s all very exciting,” said commissioner and vice-chair Joe Mihevc. “This hits 11 of 22 ridings, 20 out of 44 wards. This is going to link the city together like nothing else.”

The environmental assessment will be looking at all aspects of the line except for details around Kennedy Station, and the airport link. In the case of the former, staff said there are numerous complexities surrounding Kennedy – which will be linking up with the new Malvern line and the rebuilt Scarborough SRT. And the TTC is still negotiating with the Greater Toronto Airport Authority about linking the line directly to the airport.

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