Ontario Line would run on just 3 kilometres of city’s relief line route, confidential plans show

Ontario Line would run on just 3 kilometres of city’s relief line route, confidential plans show

Confidential plans for Premier Doug Ford’s Ontario Line show it would significantly deviate from the route of Toronto’s proposed relief line subway.

Ford has called the Ontario Line the “crown jewel” of the $28.5-billion transit plan he announced in April. It would replace the city and TTC’s earlier plans for a relief line subway, and provide a second rapid transit route into the downtown core in order to take pressure off of the overcrowded Line 1 subway.

So far, the Progressive Conservative government has stayed tight-lipped about the Ontario Line. The province has shared limited information about the plan with the TTC and city, and last week refused to even confirm to the Star whether it had completed an initial business case, an important planning document for the project.

However, the Star has obtained a summary of the initial business case that Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency working on the project, shared with the TTC and city earlier this month.

The document, which is marked confidential, shows the 15-stop Ontario Line would take a different route than indicated by previous versions of the plan the province released.

A comparison of the province's Ontario Line and city's relief line plans.

While earlier maps showed the line would roughly follow the path of the council-approved relief line along Queen St. and Eastern Ave. between Osgoode subway station and a new GO Transit stop planned for East Harbour, the Metrolinx document shows the Ontario Line would dip south to follow the path of GO’s Lakeshore East corridor, where it would be built above ground until a point north of Gerrard St.

Instead of a stop at Sumach and Adelaide Sts., as proposed under the relief line, the summary shows an Ontario Line Corktown stop south of that. The summary also shows the Ontario Line would have a Leslieville station on the western side of the Lakeshore East GO corridor, instead of a proposed relief line stop to the east of the corridor at Queen St. and Carlaw Ave.

At about 15 kilometres in length, the Ontario Line was always proposed to be about twice as long as the relief line. But the new map suggests the provincial project would follow the 7.4-kilometre relief line route for a total of less than three kilometres. That raises questions about how much of the planning the city and TTC have already put into the relief line could be repurposed for the Ontario Line.

That’s important because the extent of new design work required for the Ontario Line could be critical to determining whether the province can complete the project by its target date of 2027, a schedule that some experts have already warned was unrealistic. The province has previously said it would rely on planning for the relief line to expedite construction of the Ontario Line.

Metrolinx and the provincial government didn’t immediately respond to questions about the business case on Monday.

Stuart Green, a spokesperson for the TTC, declined to answer specific questions about the business case Monday.

“TTC and city staff are reporting back to city council in October on the province’s transit plan,” he said in an emailed statement.

“Included in that will be an assessment of the Ontario Line and the preliminary business case our staff saw earlier this month.”

According to municipal planning officials, TTC and city staff spent about three years on work required to complete an environmental assessment for the relief line and advance the project to a 15 per cent design stage. They were planning to start construction on early works for the subway as soon as 2020, with completion scheduled for as early as 2029.

Those plans were effectively scuttled with Ford’s announcement of the Ontario Line, which remains at a very early planning stage. TTC officials told council last month the province’s plan was at about 2 per cent design.

Last month, the province adopted legislation that allows it to take control of new transit projects in Toronto, part of its plan to take ownership of the TTC subway system.

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In addition to revealing a potential new route, the business case summary shows the Ontario Line would be built above ground for up to six kilometres of its 15.5-kilometre length.

In addition to the section that would run in the Lakeshore East corridor, the above ground portions would be at the very western end of the line, which the map shows would terminate at Exhibition GO station on the Lakeshore West corridor, and at its northern segment, where it would cross over the Don River twice and terminate at the Ontario Science Centre.

The summary also suggests the capital costs for the Ontario Line could be more than the $10.9 billion that Ford’s government initially stated.

The document lists the total capital costs for the Ontario Line, which would include property acquisitions and professional services, at between $9.5 billion and $11.4 billion, although it states that could be reduced to between $8.2 billion and $8.8 billion by using a procurement model known as public private partnership that’s designed to shift financial risk to the private sector.

The presentation shows that by building portions of the Ontario Line above ground the province believes it can lower the cost of the line to between $601 and $721 million per kilometre, compared to an estimated $810 to $972 million per kilometre for the relief line, which would be built underground.

The summary lists the total capital costs of the relief line at between $6.2 billion and $7.5 billion.

The presentation says that the Ontario Line would be more effective at taking pressure off of Line 1 than the relief line, and by 2041 would reduce crowding at Bloor station by 17 per cent. It says the relief line would only achieve a 12 per cent reduction.

Although taking the Ontario Line above ground for sections of its route could make it easier to build, the summary indicates there would still be some significant engineering challenges to completing the project.

It highlights three “constructability issues” for the line: the need to co-ordinate its construction in active GO corridors with plans to increase GO train service; crossing the Don River over two bridges in its northern segment; and integrating the western segment with the existing Exhibition GO station beneath the Gardiner Expressway.

While the Ford government has described the line as linking the Ontario Science Centre to Ontario Place, like previous maps released by the province the newer plan shows the line ending at Exhibition, more than half a kilometre from Ontario Place.

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at bspurr@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

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