Local residents question wisdom of spending billions for subway with homes threatened by tunnelling
May 31, 2016
Jennifer Pagliaro and Ben Spurr
The Toronto Star
One Scarborough resident whose home may be expropriated for a subway extension said Tuesday that “it doesn’t really make sense spending all this money” to replace the Scarborough RT (pictured). Photo: Marcus Oleniuk / Toronto Star File Photo
As the city unveils the first detailed plans for the one-stop Scarborough subway, residents whose homes are threatened by tunnelling are questioning why the city is spending more than $2 billion for transit they worry is not justified.
At private meetings Tuesday, the city and TTC officials revealed the recommended alignment and station location for the subway extension to Scarborough’s city centre. That recommendation is to tunnel east from Kennedy Station along Eglinton Ave., north on Danforth Rd. to McCowan Rd., ending north of Ellesmere Rd. with a new station to be located in the middle of the parking lot now at the southwest corner of the Scarborough Town Centre.
But plans to cut just west of McCowan Rd. before Ellesmere Rd., tunnelling under a section of detached family bungalows that may need to be expropriated, has left some residents asking bigger questions. That was the case at a meeting of just under a dozen concerned neighbours who convened with city and TTC staff.
The proposed tunnel would run under a gas station and 11 Stanwell Dr. homes which back onto McCowan. The TTC has also notified those residents that their homes may need to be expropriated in order to create a 10,000-square-metre staging area for tunnel construction.
Officials are still considering whether to use the northwest or southwest corner of McCowan and Ellesmere for construction purposes. The northwest corner is the forested Civic Centre Park.
Scarborough homeowner Vivek Bhatt, who invited his neighbours and a Star reporter to hear from city and TTC staff at his house Tuesday, had several questions left unanswered — including a fundamental one.
“Number one: Is this project justified?” he asked, standing among the small crowd packed onto couches and wooden chairs in his bright living room. Neighbours nodded as he described how the existing RT train is rarely busy outside of rush-hour periods — “it doesn’t really make sense, spending all this money,” Bhatt said.
Hours later, at a public meeting at the Scarborough Civic Centre, city staff may have provided ammunition for Bhatt’s argument. For the first time, the city said the ridership for the one-stop, six-kilometre subway extension — estimated to cost more than $2 billion — would be just 7,300 at the busiest time in the busiest direction.
The three-stop subway extension that was previously planned, before city staff came forward in January with the revised one-stop proposal, would carry 11,100 at the morning peak period, according to figures presented at the public meeting.
The 7,300 figure is also roughly half the number that councillors cited to justify building a subway when they approved the extension in 2013. City planning staff then that estimated up to 14,000 people would ride the extension during the morning peak. As the Star later reported, staff admitted that contentious figure was the result of “rushed” analysis.
“Council rejected a fully funded seven-stop LRT that would’ve run through its own corridor and may now choose a one-stop subway that will serve far fewer residents for two and half billion dollars,” said Councillor Josh Matlow, who has continued to challenge the justification for a subway. “Rather than invest in needed repairs for affordable housing, and real pressing transit priorities, this plan will leave residents between Scarborough Town Centre and Kennedy Station waiting for the bus.”
Back at Bhatt’s house, Mohammed Mohsin said his family sold everything to be able to afford the house nearby in 2012 after moving with his brother from Bangladesh.
“As a new Canadian, we came here having a vision in hand that we will try to have a better future here,” he said. Now, they’re unsure what that future looks like with uncertain talk of expropriation.
Stephanie Rice, the TTC’s director of third-party planning and property on the Scarborough project, told Bhatt’s gathering that she had previously been part of the plans for a fully funded, seven-stop LRT from Kennedy station, but that council had scrapped that effort in 2013 under former mayor Rob Ford and decided to build an estimated $3.56-billion three-stop subway to Sheppard Ave. instead.
That plan involved sourcing $745 million from taxpayers citywide, a levy that has been collected on every Toronto property tax bill since 2014 and is expected to continue for the next 30 years.
Then this January, city staff presented a significantly altered plan, reducing the subway to a one-stop extension — what advocates, including Mayor John Tory, have pushed as an “express subway” — to Scarborough’s city centre. That plan, staffers say, allows for the addition of a 17-stop LRT that can be built within the same cost bracket.
When asked why the tunnel is proposed to run under their homes, Rice explained that staff wanted the station to remain close to Scarborough Town Centre, while being accessible to the Scarborough Civic Centre.
However, Rice said a condominium on Town Centre Crt., next to McCowan Rd. and near the Town Centre, poses a big challenge. Because the TTC would have to tunnel below the condo’s underground parking garage to avoid cutting under the Stanwell Dr. homes, the station would be at a lower depth than any other in the system — and that would come at a great expense, she said.
Letters to residents were sent before city council has yet to even debate an alignment for the subway. A staff report is expected next month ahead of a regular meeting in July.
At a TTC meeting Tuesday, CEO Andy Byford told reporters said needing to expropriate the homes is not “set in stone yet,” but that the route seen by residents is the recommendation moving forward.
“We know the route that is being settled upon, so at some point we may need to talk to residents whose homes are in the way of where the tunnel-boring machines need to go in and out,” he said. “We are merely trying to afford the residents the courtesy of giving them as much notice as possible of what might happen.”
Tory says he was surprised by the TTC letters and didn’t know about them before they went out, but was told the TTC felt obliged to inform homeowners in the subway’s path before Tuesday’s meetings. “What they were trying to do, the TTC — I found out this morning — was to really in advance of the public meeting being held tonight, was not to be accused tomorrow morning of not having said anything when some resident went and looked at a map and concluded that the subway was going to run right through their backyard,” he said. “So no good deed goes unpunished.”
A close up of the proposed station location, which is noted by the dotted yellow line. The proposed bus terminal connection is noted in green. (TTC)
According to a presentation to residents, the TTC plans to dig a single 10.7-metre interior tunnel — which would take up 18 metres including the buffer surrounding it — along the length of the route, starting at the Scarborough Town Centre. Rice said the most complicated part of the project, which has the most impact on timelines, is the construction of the new station.
Though council has yet to approve any plans, Rice said the TTC would start major construction in the summer of 2019.
With files from David Rider
To see this article in its original form, including an interactive map, please visit: https://www.thestar.com/news/city_hall/2016/05/31/first-detailed-plans-revealed-for-one-stop-scarborough-subway.html