Residents' groups in York South-Weston and the City of Toronto are calling on Metrolinx to explore burying a section of the long-anticipated Eglinton Crosstown West Extension to protect local green space.
The $4.7-billion project, expected to finish in 2030-31, will extend the Eglinton Crosstown light rail line 9.2 kilometres west along Eglinton Avenue West to Mississauga. The route is expected to run mostly underground. But an elevated section is projected to run 1.5 kilometres between stations at Scarlett Road and Jane Street.
That will affect parts of Pearen Park, Fergy Brown Park, as well as the surrounding urban forest, and Neiland Brissenden, a member of a group called Stop the Trains in Our Parks, says residents shouldn't have to choose between expanding transit and losing parkland.
"This neighbourhood needs this transit — we're a priority neighbourhood. We need access to the jobs that this project will bring," said Brissenden.
"But we don't believe that this needs to be done at the expense of our fantastic green space."
Tunnelling for the extension started in early April and later that month, Metrolinx invited shortlisted builders to submit proposals to design and construct the elevated section. But Brissenden's group and the Mount Dennis Community Association are calling on the agency to change course before it's too late. And they're not alone: the City of Toronto asked the provincial transit agency at least twice in recent months to consider bringing the elevated section underground.
But Metrolinx says the current design is the most cost-effective option, and can bring the most number of riders onboard without the risks that come with tunneling underneath the Humber River.
"Excavations for the underground stations of Scarlett and Jane would need to be around 30 metres deep — which is pretty much as deep as a nine-storey building is tall," said Metrolinx spokesperson Fannie Sunshine.
She says the above-ground design will save more travel time for riders, has "the highest ridership potential," and will mean "easier, more reliable operations once the extension is in service."
'Thinking through the trade-offs'
The tension between York South-Weston residents and Metrolinx isn't unique, says Matti Siemiatycki, a geography and planning professor who also heads the University of Toronto's Infrastructure Institute.
He says communities often want to see transit expansion projects happen underground with minimal construction, environmental and traffic impacts.
But in reality, he says underground transit is the most expensive to build and maintain, requires more energy than above-ground options to operate, and should only be used when a large number of people are being transported or there's no other alternative.
"There is a fixed amount of money we have to invest in transit and to spread this out as far as possible requires thinking through the trade-offs," Siemiatycki told CBC Toronto.
Metrolinx says the line will connect with five regional rail and bus services and have up to 10 stations — seven from Mount Dennis to Renforth Drive, and up to three more for a potential link between Renforth Drive and Pearson International Airport.
Under the current design, the regional transit agency forecasts 37,000 daily boardings and 39,000 tonnes in yearly reductions to greenhouse gas emissions.
Asking for help
Brissenden says if the plan continues as is, not only will kids have less incentive to use their parks for the eight years the construction is projected to take, but endangered and threatened species found in the area, such as the little brown myotis bat, will be put at greater risk.
That's why he's looking for help from Michael Ford, the new MPP for York South-Weston.
Ford, who is also the new minister of citizenship and multiculturalism and Premier Doug Ford's nephew, campaigned on the issue during the recent provincial election and said he would help local residents make their case to Ontario Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney.
"I will be a voice for my constituents at Queen's Park and will work with Metrolinx, Minister Mulroney and her team to get transit built for commuters and support the needs of our community," reads a written statement to CBC News from Ford's office.