Toronto

Metrolinx needs to communicate better about Ontario Line construction, councillors say

Metrolinx is making progress on supporting businesses and communities that will be impacted by the construction of the Ontario Line subway but more needs to be done to satisfy the city, Toronto councillors say.

Transit agency making progress, will provide $10K annually to BIAs affected during construction: report

A view of the construction site at Exhibition Station where a station entrance is being built.
A view of the construction site at Exhibition Station, part of the Ontario Line, where a station entrance is being built. The Ontario line, a 15.6-kilometre subway route with 15 stops, is slated to run from Exhibition Place to the Ontario Science Centre. (Metrolinx)

Metrolinx is making progress on supporting businesses and communities that will be impacted by the construction of the Ontario Line subway but more needs to be done to satisfy the city, Toronto councillors say.

Coun. Ausma Malik, who represents Spadina-Fort York, said the provincial transit agency is taking the city's expectations seriously, but Metrolinx could provide comprehensive timelines and communicate more clearly. It also needs to formalize plans on how it will support local businesses and communities as it builds the transit line.

"We're going to make sure that Metrolinx is accountable to what our community, our residents and our local businesses need," Malik said on Wednesday.

Malik said there is "evidence" that Metrolinx has learned lessons from the Eglinton Crosstown light rail line, a much delayed transit line that is still not finished. The agency has improved how it deals with the city and local businesses, she said. It's important to manage disruptions more effectively, she added.

The Ontario line, a 15.6-kilometre subway route with 15 stops, is slated to run from Exhibition Place to the Ontario Science Centre. Construction began in December 2021 and is expected to be completed by 2031.

Asked whether it's on schedule to meet that targeted completion date, Metrolinx said, "Work is on track and Torontonians will see even more progress on this much-needed subway line this year."

Metrolinx to launch funding program for BIAs 

The Toronto and East York Community Council, which includes Malik, discussed a city staff report on the line at its Wednesday meeting. The report was a first quarter update.

Ausma Malik
Coun. Ausma Malik, who represents Spadina-Fort York, says the city is working with Metrolinx and plans to make sure the transit agency is accountable to communities and businesses. (CBC)

The report says Metrolinx plans to provide $10,000 annually to each Business Improvement Area on the Ontario Line route to support marketing initiatives during construction. It's also holding open houses and community meetings where it provides project details and shares updates on construction activities.

Metrolinx is expected to launch the annual funding program for BIAs by March 31 and the money will be provided while the transit line is being built, according to the report.

"Metrolinx has begun to implement marketing activities, improving signage, ensuring access to businesses and conducting regular site inspections," the report says. The agency has also developed requirements with contractors working on the line to "keep the construction working areas and vicinity clean, and to always maintain door access to businesses."

Walied Khogali Ali, co-chair of the BOLD Community Coalition, told the meeting that the coalition is concerned about the Ontario Line's impact on parkland and it would like to see more details on Metrolinx's plan for the development of public spaces once the line is built. BOLD stands for Build Ontario Line Differently.

For example, he said it would like Metrolinx to focus on "meaningful outcomes," such as enhancing the Queen Street and University Avenue intersection.

A map of the Ontario Line included in a city staff report discussed by the Toronto and East York Community Council on Wednesday.
A map of the Ontario Line included in a city staff report discussed by the Toronto and East York Community Council on Wednesday. (City staff report presented to Toronto and East York Community Council)

The coalition has talked to Metrolinx officials and explained how the line will impact communities through regular meetings, he said.

"We can't do this work if we don't trust each other and work with integrity. We care about the same things," he said.

'How will this look when it's over?' councillor asks

Coun. Paula Fletcher, who represents Ward 14, Toronto-Danforth, said the Pape and Danforth intersection will be a "difficult intersection in general" as work continues in the area. She said she's concerned about people losing their homes in an area north of Gerrard Street East, adding one rooming house has already been emptied due to construction. 

Fletcher expressed concerns about trees that will be removed from the Don Valley as a new bridge is built over the Lower Don River and as the existing rail bridge and GO Train tracks in the area are modified to accommodate the line.

A woman stands in front of a microphone answering questions from a reporter.
Coun. Paula Fletcher, who represents Toronto-Danforth, says she's concerned about people losing their homes in an area north of Gerrard Street East and about trees being removed in the Don Valley. (Grant Linton/CBC)

"I think we need to pull back and look and say: 'How will this look when it's over? How can we make this better for the communities?' And yes, we all agree we're building much needed transit, but we're not building it in a greenfield or a brownfield, we are building it under homes and in very dense neighbourhoods."

According to the report, Metrolinx and its contractor will begin to clear trees in the Don Valley this month to prepare for the construction of an elevated guideway and bridge.

As for benefits for communities along the route, the report says Metrolinx recognizes the importance of providing employment opportunities for equity-deserving groups. To that end, Metrolinx, along with Connect 6ix, a consortium of companies involved in building the Ontario Line, held a job fair in Thorncliffe Park on Wednesday.

The transit agency is working to track and report on employment targets for historically disadvantaged and equity deserving groups, Indigenous and Black communities, the report says.

"Overall, Metrolinx has indicated that it is in agreement with city council's recommendations to keep communities informed during construction of the Ontario Line," the report reads.

Malik told the meeting that Toronto deserves much needed transit, but that it must be built well. She said council's recommendations have become a "vital part" of the construction process.

"We are working together, we are seeing results and we are ensuring the Ontario Line is not just built on time, but that it is built right. And there is always room for improvement."

In an email on Wednesday, Metrolinx said construction is underway across all downtown stations, work has begun to relocate tracks and upgrade the rail bridges along the existing GO rail corridor in Riverside and Leslieville, where both Ontario Line and GO trains will run side-by-side on separate tracks. It also said work has been done at Exhibition Station where a pedestrian bridge, platform and station entrance were added to ensure access to the station during construction.

"We expect to award our last remaining major package of work — the elevated guideway and stations contract — in the near future," Metrolinx spokesperson Andrea Ernesaks said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Muriel Draaisma is a reporter and writer at CBC News in Toronto. She likes to write about social justice issues. She has previously worked for the Vancouver Sun, Edmonton Journal and Regina Leader-Post. She is originally from B.C. Have an idea for a story? You can reach her at muriel.draaisma@cbc.ca.

With files from Dale Manucdoc

now