Toronto city council will vote next week on road closure and traffic management plans for the downtown portion of the Ontario Line — a massive transit construction project that some fear will disrupt the city's downtown for years.
According to the plans, contained in a city staff report, the building of six subway stops in downtown Toronto could mean major road closures for seven years. The plans, amended and approved by Mayor John Tory's executive committee on Tuesday, outline the expected impacts on local businesses, communities and road users.
"You can't build transit, as we are doing in record quantity, without having an impact as the transit is constructed," Tory told reporters before the executive committee meeting.
Tory said the city needs to manage the impacts of construction as best it can.
The 15.6-kilometre route will link the Ontario Science Centre and Exhibition Place and is designed to relieve overcrowding on the TTC's Line 1, also known as the Yonge-University-Spadina line. Metrolinx, the province's regional transportation agency, is expected to deliver the transit line.
According to the report, the largest disruption would stem from the building of a new Queen Station and would mean full road closures on Queen Street from Bay Street to Victoria Street for four-and-a-half years from May 2023 to November 2027.
Tory said he supports the "pro-active" approach by Metrolinx to try to minimize road closures and the effects of long-term construction on road users.
Councillor worries disruption could last the 'next decade'
At least one city councillor, however, is concerned that the road closures will shut down much of the downtown and could jeopardize the city's ability to emerge from the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, who represents Ward 13, Toronto Centre, said she recognizes transit construction will be disruptive but she said seven years of road closures seems excessive to her.
"I am personally very nervous that Metrolinx will say all the right things at this point in time, get their approvals from city council and then we have to spend the next seven to 10 years forcing them to [follow] our rules," she said.
Wong-Tam said Metrolinx needs to be a "great city-building partner" and reduce the time of construction.
"Downtown Toronto needs to recover, but we aren't going to be able to recover quickly if you are going to tear up our roads for the next decade," she said.
She said the construction could mean the downtown core will look like Eglinton Avenue after years of disruption caused by the construction of the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT.
Big projects mean 'big impacts,' expert says
Matti Siemiatycki, a professor of geography and planning and the director of the infrastructure institute at the University of Toronto, urged residents to think about how great it will be to have an east-west line going through the centre of the city farther south along Queen Street.
"The time in between is going to tough and it's going to be difficult. It's going to be painful to get around. I think we have to acknowledge that when you have big projects, they have big impacts. It is going to be a challenge," he said.
"It's pain that will pay off with great infrastructure when it gets built. There are strategies to make this better and the city should take its time, review them and look at all the options."
City staff said the objective of its report is to seek city council approval for the following:
Implementation of long term temporary road closures and associated traffic regulation amendments.
Implementation of new infrastructure improvements on York Street, including a new streetcar track and a cycle track.
Authority to negotiate and enter into an agreement with Metrolinx and TTC for the delivery of the new infrastructure works on York Street, between Queen Street West and King Street West.
Toronto city council meets next on Dec. 15.