A view of the Toronto skyline from the Island

City approves motion to study bridge to Toronto Island

Toronto City Council approved a motion by Councillor Jon Burnside, Ward 16 Don Valley, on Thursday to study the creation of a link (or a bridge) between mainland Toronto and Toronto Island, which is currently only accessible by ferry.

“The City is in the process of replacing those ferries, but the costs have skyrocketed,” the member’s  motion states. “Torontonians value their parks and greenspace but were recently told not to visit the Islands due to excessive demands on the ferries.”

The motion notes how the area east of Ward’s Island is only 250 metres from the Portlands.

“This location could provide reliable year-round low-cost access for pedestrians, cyclists and emergency vehicles.”

The motion’s approval  comes after a new Toronto Island Master Plan was presented to Council on Tuesday — a plan that has been developed to address present-day priorities related to visitor experiences and access to the Island, with consideration for the City’s ongoing procurement of new electric ferry vessels

“Delivery of new vessels will expand capacity to and from the Island while also aligning the fleet with the City’s goals related to greenhouse gas emission reduction,” the master plan report states.

However, the master plan doesn’t propose the delivery of a new fixed link (bridge or tunnel).

“Such an initiative would be a generational project, requiring detailed study and analysis of site conditions and operational considerations that inform feasible design alternatives,” the report states.

It does, however, suggest millions of dollars in improvements, including building supporting electrical infrastructure at Jack Layton Ferry Terminal, reviewing all existing operational practices to improve efficiency and visitor experience, and launching four new electric ferries, which should be in service by 2027 and result in 42% capacity improvements.

“The new ferries represent a significant investment in an improved Island experience and a step forward in implementation of the Master Plan vision. Additional measures are recommended to further enhance movement across the harbour,” the report adds.

Currently, the only way to get to/from the Islands is by a ferry leaving from the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal (service runs 365 days a year) or by private water taxis leaving from a separate dock. The City’s ferry fleet carries approximately 1.4 million passengers each year on its four primary ferry vessels (and two broken ferries are undergoing repairs right now).

Proponents of a bridge suggest that access to the Toronto Islands should be free (return tickets are presently $9.11 for adults, $5.86 for students and seniors, $4.29 under 14, and no fee for children under 2).

Burnside’s motion also requests that the City’s Community and Social Services and Infrastructure Services departments report on the cost of a fixed link compared to the cost of continued ferry fleet service to Toronto Island, including the number of pedestrians and cyclists that could be accommodated year-round.

Still, according to a report on Tuesday from Newstalk 1010’s The Jerry Agar Show (prior to Council approving Burnside’s motion), the Toronto Island Community Association wrote in a written statement that the proposal seemed to be more of a “media-grabbing motion” rather than a serious proposal for now — something that Burnside denies.

“This is not media grabbing at all…for me it’s about accessibility, its about inclusion, and its about reliability,” Burnside told Agar on Tuesday. “Why would we funnel everyone onto a ferry system that constantly breaks down? And we know that these electric ferries are not going to be the cost [that’s] been estimated. We’re already almost three times what was estimated for consultants, and so from an operational standpoint, we can save money in the long-term.”

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