Public outcry forces city to improve oversight for Metrolinx Ontario Line project


Michael Lewis

Special to Ontario Construction News

A Toronto city council subcommittee created after an outcry from residents and stakeholders who said Metrolinx was ignoring their concerns says the city will keep up the pressure on the provincial transit agency for meaningful engagement during the multi year, fifteen stop Ontario Line subway project.

“We need to assure that the transit infrastructure that we need is well built,” said Ausma Malik, councillor for Spadina-Fort York (Ward 10) and chair of the subcommittee on Metrolinx’s Ontario Line construction at the group’s final meeting Monday.

ontario line map“We have pushed a set of recommendations … on how we expect the building and implementation of the Ontario Line to move forward to achieve the best results for Toronto residents in terms of design, construction, scheduling, public engagement, protecting small businesses and providing crucial neighbourhood support.” She said the city is supportive of the Ontario line, in part for its ability to get people out of their cars but wants to make “clear recommendations about engagement.”

Councillors voted to create the Metrolinx subcommittee after the agency removed 11 old growth trees from the grounds of the Osgoode Hall heritage site downtown without a permit and despite community efforts to find an alternative to make way for the planned eventual construction of an Ontario Line stop. Around the same time last winter Metrolinx cut down 61 mature trees at Moss Park for another planned Ontario Line station.

Derrick Toigo, executive director of Toronto’s Transit Expansion Division, told the meeting that the recommendations call for Metrolinx to develop project-specific community benefit plans and provide a detailed engagement schedule with local communities impacted by Ontario Line construction. The recommendations would require Metrolinx to meet regularly with Business Improvement Areas and the City’s BIA Office to develop business support provisions based on lessons learned from construction of the Eglinton Crosstown light rail line whose impacts continue to hobble local businesses.

As well, the recommendations  seek measures to reduce  traffic disruption;  to require the agency to adhere to municipal by-laws and compensation requirements when  removing public and private trees, to  engage with city staff and the community on park restoration plans, to protect access to park facilities and to consider  investments to add or enhance parkland impacted by  Ontario Line construction — including upgrades to existing parks and recreation facilities with funding from Metrolinx’s community benefits plan.

The recommendations say efforts should be made to provide an exchange of land of nearby property of equivalent or larger area and comparable or superior green space. They also call for Metrolinx to provide semi-annual updates to the city on land required for construction of the 15.6-km above and below ground subway expansion that will run from Exhibition Place through downtown to the Ontario Science Centre Station at Eglinton Ave. and Don Mills Road. The project has an estimated price tag of $17 to $19 billion with completion estimated in 2031.

Toigo said he has received assurances from Metrolinx that the agency will work with the city but no firm commitment that it will accept the city’s recommendations. “I can’t control what Metrolinx does. Legislation exists for them to do whatever they feel they want to do. My hope it that through constant pressure on them they will work with us more actively to address these concerns.”

Neil Betteridge, vice-president of the Gooderham and Worts Neighbourhood Association, told the meeting that he welcomes the staff report and recommendations “regarding ways to address the challenging shortcomings in Metrolinx’s approach to Ontario Line construction to date.”

He said residents represented by the association who live in and around the Distillery District, between two of the Metrolinx Ontario Line construction sites, “have been deeply frustrated by the lack of substantive detail about plans and meaningful consultation with both Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario, despite many attempts at communications and meetings. We have come to understand that the challenges we have faced appear systematically across wards along the path of the future Ontario Line.”

Awarding of more than $10 billion of contracts “without any clearly measurable commitments to community benefits is unconscionable,” he told the subcommittee, adding that it has been a “mighty struggle to get Metrolinx to two meetings over the past year.” Concerns about the progress of the Ontario Line, meanwhile, have been voiced by several communities over issues including plans to replace local businesses and a mosque with a railyard and to run a rail line through backyards.

The subcommittee approved the recommendations contained in the staff report with amendments, including one from Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas executive director John Kiru requiring construction progress reporting. The recommendations of the subcommittee whose membership includes councillors from affected wards will be sent to Infrastructure Ontario and Metrolinx after their approval at the next meeting of city council.

“We will review the recommendations directly with our partners at the City of Toronto,” Metrolinx said in a statement to Ontario Construction News. “We are pleased to see that many of the recommendations are already underway or planned and have been the subject of numerous past discussions with elected officials and City of Toronto counterparts.

“With all our projects, including the Ontario Line, we regularly share updates and seek feedback on our plans in communities across the city,” the statement added.

“Our Community Engagement team has held over 350 pop up information tables in public spaces across the line, as well as almost 400 meetings with community stakeholders,” it continues. “Over 70 door-to-door canvasses have also been organized along with 25 virtual and in person open houses since April 2021. At this time, over 25,000 doors have been knocked on within 800 metres of the Ontario line and we have had 16,500 in-person interactions with community members.”


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