Councillors, public getting stonewalled when asking why the Eglinton Crosstown project is delayed

The Eglinton Crosstown LRT's opening date has been pushed back three times. The most recent delay was announced this past September, but neither Metrolinx nor the Ontario government will say what caused the delay or when the project is expected to be complete. (Angelina King/CBC - image credit)
The Eglinton Crosstown LRT's opening date has been pushed back three times. The most recent delay was announced this past September, but neither Metrolinx nor the Ontario government will say what caused the delay or when the project is expected to be complete. (Angelina King/CBC - image credit)

As the opening of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT blows past yet another deadline, two Toronto city councillors who say they're fed up with the lack of transparency are planning to ask council to formally request answers as to why the project stalled for a third time this fall.

The 25-stop, 19-kilometre light rapid transit line that will eventually connect the city along Eglinton from Kennedy to Mount Dennis was last slated to be up and running this fall. Work began in 2011 and Metrolinx previously announced completion dates of 2020 and 2021. The overall cost is estimated at about $5.8 billion.

Neither Metrolinx nor the Ontario government would answer CBC Toronto's questions about the delay and timeline and the two councillors say they've also been stonewalled.

"We still don't know the real facts because Metrolinx has been totally secretive about this and is refusing to disclose any kind of information," said Coun. Mike Colle, who represents Ward 8, Eglinton-Lawrence.

"They won't tell the TTC, they won't tell Toronto city council, they won't tell the residents."

In a statement released at the end of September, Metrolinx said construction and testing wouldn't be completed on time, but wouldn't say why or provide a new opening date.

Angelina King/CBC
Angelina King/CBC

CBC Toronto previously reported the major issues causing the most recent delay are underground engineering complications at Yonge and Eglinton. But the exact cause remains unknown. That's why Colle and Coun. Josh Matlow are planning to table a motion asking council to demand public answers from Metrolinx's CEO and the provincial transportation minister.

"I think there's reason to wonder why they're not being honest and open about it. What are they hiding?" said Matlow, who represents Ward 12, Toronto-St.Paul's.

CBC Toronto requested an interview with Metrolinx's CEO Phil Verster, but was denied. The provincial agency didn't answer a series of questions and instead sent Verster's statement from September when the latest delay was announced.

Ontario's Ministry of Transportation didn't respond to multiple requests for comment or answer a series of written questions.

Motion to call for public inquiry, financial compensation 

Colle and Matlow say they've had to field questions from frustrated constituents who have been affected by the ongoing construction, which is causing major traffic delays and is devastating businesses in the area.

"This government and Metrolinx need to remember that as a public agency, they're accountable to not only those of us who represent the people of this city, but those who live here," Matlow said.

Angelina King/CBC
Angelina King/CBC

The motion the councillors plan to bring next month will ask council to request that Verster and Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney appear before the city's Infrastructure and Environment Committee to provide an update on the project and answer questions.

"There should be, on the public record, some very clear answers," Matlow said.

The motion is also expected to call upon the province to launch a public inquiry into the project.

"This is public money," Colle said. "People have a right to know."

Angelina King/CBC
Angelina King/CBC

The motion will also request that Metrolinx provide financial compensation for local businesses and residents due to loss of income and quality of life, pay for traffic wardens at hot spots along Eglinton Avenue and provide free TTC bus rides along Eglinton until the project is complete.

'You can't predict this on paper,' geoscientist says 

A source with knowledge of the project previously told CBC Toronto crews are up against complicated engineering issues involved in digging and building underneath the existing Yonge subway line, which must continue to operate safely during construction. The source also said the earliest the Eglinton Crosstown could open is around this time next year.

The Eglinton Crosstown LRT is being built underneath the Yonge line and it appears constructing that interchange is causing issues. Colle says the two stations at Yonge and Eglinton must be combined into one hub and it appears crews can't seem to make that connection work, but he hasn't been provided more details beyond that.

"All I know is they keep going back and revisiting this site here with more machines, more cranes," he said of the Yonge and Eglinton intersection.

Geoscientist Tamara Kondrachova, whose research focuses on tunneling and subway expansion in the GTA, says the construction of the project is complicated. Kondrachova, who also has a master's degree in engineering, says it's the first project of its kind with this kind of scope in Toronto and those working on it are experts.

Supplied/Tamara Kondrachova
Supplied/Tamara Kondrachova

She says complications at the Yonge and Eglinton intersection may have come up that couldn't have been predicted when designing the new LRT because crews are building underneath a subway line that was constructed in 1954.

The existing line must be kept stable during construction, but crews may not know its actual condition until after work has started, she says.

"You can't predict this on paper," Kondrachova said. "You can plan for certain risks where each risk would be assigned with a certain cost, but reality may be different because as soon as you open up all the aging infrastructure you see how stable it is."

During construction, the existing subway can only move a maximum of two millimetres — about the width of a grain of rice — according to a video Metrolinx released in June 2019 about the underpinning process.

Angelina King/CBC
Angelina King/CBC

Underpinning strengthens the foundation of the existing subway line. In the video, Metrolinx says it's "one of the most complex engineering tasks" of the Eglinton Crosstown project.

"You have to do lots of work to protect the existing infrastructure," Kondrachova said.

Metrolinx has already begun construction on the Ontario Line, which will see a 15-stop subway run through the heart of downtown Toronto. Since it will also cross existing subway lines, Matlow says he hopes the agency is prepared for similar issues that have come up with the Eglinton Crosstown project, whatever they may be.

"We want Metrolinx and the provincial government to learn from this, both from an engineering perspective but also from a transparency perspective."