A long-planned new subway line into downtown Toronto could be finished within a decade – two years sooner than expected – if the city approves accelerated spending on design and planning work, Toronto Mayor John Tory said Thursday.
The new plan was devised by staff at the Toronto Transit Commission and involves spending an extra $325-million over the next two years on the Downtown Relief Line. But this is money that would have been spent later anyway, according to the head of the project, meaning the overall cost shouldn’t change.
The idea requires the TTC board and city council to approve half of that money this year. And it comes against a backdrop of uncertainty as the province contemplates how to take over the city’s subway expansion planning.
The relief line is tentatively budgeted at $6.8-billion and is not funded. It would run south from Pape station, on the Danforth, and then curl west to enter the downtown under Queen Street. It would finish at University Avenue, intersecting with the existing subway network at Osgoode station. This would take pressure off the Bloor/Yonge subway interchange by diverting some passengers onto the new line.
“I am committed to being the mayor that gets the relief line built,” Mr. Tory told reporters as he announced the TTC’s idea.
“I know while the date that we’re talking about here, in the late 2020s, still sounds far away, the bottom line is that the faster you get on with these projects … the sooner we’re going to have relief that people have talked about for decades.”
TTC Chair Jaye Robinson explained that the plan involves pursuing some aspects of work in parallel, instead of in sequence. These include property acquisition, utility relocation, and preparatory work related to boring the tunnel.
The idea resembles one put forward by former chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat, who was Mr. Tory’s main opponent in the campaign for mayor and who said that work on the project could be accelerated. At the time Mr. Tory said that he had been told the work was being done as quickly as possible. On Thursday, the mayor said the idea for how to speed up the project came from the TTC.
After the event, DRL project head Malcolm MacKay said that 10 per cent of the design work had been done. In the process of reaching that point, he said, the team came up with various ways to save time. Mr. MacKay said that shovels could go in the ground for the project by next year, including starting work on the excavation where the machine that bores the tunnel will be launched.
The TTC has projected that crowding on the Yonge line will reach unacceptable and dangerous levels during rush hour by 2031, which has long been the target for finishing the DRL.
The transit advocacy group TTCriders praised the plan to accelerate the project but said any timeline was threatened by the province’s plans to take over Toronto’s subways.
“The province’s plan to steal our subway system risks delaying the relief line,” the group said in a statement released Thursday afternoon.
During the morning event, Mr. Tory said it was “grossly premature” to assume what will become of provincial plans, an upload that Queen’s Park says would mean that government controls subway expansion. “We have the responsibility today … to build these transit projects,” he said.
Work on the Downtown Relief Line is contingent on securing enough money to pay a tab currently estimated at $6.8-billion, a figure that is expected to rise. Billions have been promised for transit in Toronto by the province and the federal government, though that money will have many projects competing for it.