Yonge Street subway extension back on track
York Region contingent treks south to confront Toronto mayor’s executive committee
Ding ding! It’s the latest round in the Yonge subway extension fight and don’t look now but change may be in the air.
Putting the subway back in the news was a Toronto City Council report last month updating the status of the extension, which will bring the train from Finch up to Highway 7, and the Downtown Relief Line, which we’ll come back to in a second. Thereafter, Mayor John Tory announced that if the province or anyone else dared to fund the Yonge extension before the DRL he’d block it.
Toronto has been loathe to take the subway further north without the DRL, due to the Yonge line being at capacity, and disputes between the Region and City about whether other projects are creating room for new riders.
Tory’s tough stand made the news and local politicians did the media rounds, explaining how important the subway is to their growth plans.
The following week, Richmond Hill Mayor Dave Barrow, Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti and York Region Chairperson Wayne Emmerson ventured down to Toronto City Hall to make their pitch to the city’s Executive Committee.
After that, the three stood with Tory at a microphone and said they’d work together to jointly lobby for both subways. Wow.
In the meantime, if you’ve driven along Yonge you may have noticed changes afoot.
In particular, Beaver Valley Stone, a long-time tenant of Langstaff Road East, sandwiched between the 407 and the Holy Cross Cemetery, has decamped.
Markham, the TRCA and the landowners are rehabbing the much-abused Pomona Mills Creek and preparing the site for development, in which the creek will be part of a park.
That development will be the first of many in an area — known officially as Langstaff Gateway — planned as an ambitious transitoriented community.
With the existing transit — GO, YRT and Viva, converging with the subway, it’s (hopefully) going to be an urban and urbane neighbourhood housing more than 30,000 people. Another 15,000 residents will eventually push out the big box stores on the north side, in Richmond Hill Centre.
That will take decades — and the subway — but there is room for developers to start the ball rolling before the subway does. This first phase should see about 750 apartments built near Yonge and Langstaff. It’s perfect for walking to the GO station but Langstaff Road is the only way in or out by car right now and with no timeline for the subway, those first residents are going to be way ahead of the curve.
So the density keeps coming, but the subway? Well, at least we saw an iota of progress this month.
Now, the DRL if you’ve missed the early rounds of this long bout, has been kicked around since the time of horse-drawn carriages but never made it to actual tunneling. But when York Region and TTC wrapped their work on the initial extension planning in 2009, Toronto made the DRL a pre-requisite for going north. The DRL, which would run off the Bloor-Danforth line in the east and connect to the Yonge line at Queen, is needed to keep people from piling into the already-at capacity Yonge-Bloor station.
But while the DRL is important, Toronto has spent the past decade prioritizing just about everything else. Transit City? Check! A subway for Scarborough? Yup. Then Transit City again? More or less? And then a little of both? Sure! Then SmartTrack, to supplant the DRL? Of course! And then we actually need the DRL anyway, plus the abbreviated Scarborough subway? Err, OK.
In the meantime, costs ballooned. That Toronto report now pegs the DRL at $6.8 billion and the Yonge subway at $5.6. It was under $3B back in 2009 and the DRL was estimated at $3.2B just five years ago. Neither is getting cheaper.
This is the end result of a system that pits municipalities against each other, scrounging for funding scraps after decades of neglect. The Yonge line is crucial to developing more sustainable neighbourhoods and moving about more efficiently but we now need an even more expensive line to accommodate it.
It wasn’t so long ago people in Scarborough apparently wanted “subways, subways, subways!” Up here it’s increasingly been, “subway, subway…….. subway?”
But it’s finally time to focus on the good news: 416 and 905 politicians are working for a common cause and a provincial election looms, making the atmosphere just right for selfserving funding announcements. Who knows what might be coming down the tracks?
Government officials including Premier Kathleen Wynne mark the completion of track installation for the Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension