It could be almost a decade until the Ontario Line is up and running, but already some residents along its proposed route are opposing the plan to have trains operate 90 seconds apart on an elevated track through their neighbourhoods.
A community group in the east downtown Riverdale area says in addition to the high frequency of the trains, they’re worried about the impact the construction of the $11-billion provincial transit project will have on their community.
In an Aug. 9 letter to Metrolinx, the Lakeshore East Community Advisory Committee, an arms-length group set up to communicate with the provincial transit agency and the City of Toronto about transit projects, warns that if constructed as planned, the Ontario Line “will harm the quality of life of the very people it’s meant to serve.”
The letter cites construction noise, vibration and dust, as well an “unprecedented increase in train activity” on the Lakeshore East GO corridor as major sources of concern.
Riverdale resident Darcie Garand, acting vice-chair of the committee, said in an interview many locals supported the previous plan for the relief line subway, which also would have served her neighbourhood but run entirely below ground.
But in April the Ontario Progressive Conservative government announced it would replace the relief line, a city-led project, with the Ontario Line. The new 15.5-kilometre project would be about twice as long, but in an effort to reduce costs the province would build almost half of it above ground instead of boring the tunnels required for the relief line.
An initial business case Metrolinx released last month shows one elevated section would be built on “a widened embankment or elevated structure” along the Lakeshore East GO corridor between a point east of Cherry St. and north of Gerrard St.
The business case acknowledged the Ontario Line’s elevated sections “present a greater potential for disruption” to local communities than the relief line.
The Ontario Line trains would be smaller than TTC subways, and in order to carry a high volume of passengers they would run more frequently, with the Metrolinx business case projecting intervals of about 90 seconds in each direction. That means residents living along the corridor would have trains passing by at an average of once every 45 seconds.
The route would run directly behind the Tiverton Ave. home where Garand is raising her 7-month-old son.
“We’re basically going to be living beneath the equivalent of the Gardiner highway,” Garand said.
Her group had already expressed concerns about Metrolinx’s plans to dramatically increase GO train service through the Lakeshore East corridor as part of a major expansion project, and she said it feels like the Ontario Line “came out of nowhere and is just going to complicate the issue.”
Garand acknowledged some might see her group’s opposition as NIMBYism, but argued those impacted by the line have a right to weigh in.
“I bought a house on the train track, in a growing city … I would be very naïve not to assume that transit is always going to increase,” she said. But she added: “I am a Toronto resident. I’m the one who’s going to be using this service regularly, and my voice needs to be heard.”
According to current plans, the Ontario Line could also run on an elevated structure in its northern section, through the neighbourhoods of Flemingdon Park and Thorncliffe Park.
Extending the line to those communities, where median household incomes are significantly lower than the citywide average, is one of the major benefits of the new line.
There doesn’t appear to be organized opposition to the Ontario Line in those communities, at least not yet.
Jason Ash, a Thorncliffe Park resident and board member of The Neighbourhood Organization, a non-profit multi-service agency that serves Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park, said residents may not yet be familiar with details of the plan.
But he predicted a “flashpoint” could be Metrolinx’s intention to build an above-ground track along Overlea Blvd., which he described as a “gorgeous” tree-lined street and “a point of pride for the neighbourhood.”
“There are people who are concerned about an elevated guideway being close to their homes,” he said.
In an emailed statement, Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins said the agency is committed to addressing residents’ concerns.
She said “while construction impacts are unavoidable in large infrastructure projects, several features of the Ontario Line would reduce these impacts, such as construction through existing rail corridors and less digging.”
Aikins acknowledged there would be “many more trains going through the corridor,” but said “we need to increase train traffic” to serve the growing region. She pointed out the Ontario Line would use “modern electric passenger rail technology” to minimize noise, and GO plans to replace many of its diesel locomotives with quieter electric trains.
The province says the Ontario Line could open as early as 2027, although that date is based on little design work and experts have warned it’s unrealistic.
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Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr