A midtown Toronto city councillor is once again voicing his frustration with the ongoing delays plaguing construction of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, saying the provincial agency responsible for the project, Metrolinx, needs to do more for local residents and businesses.
“Years of delays, along with a lack of a plan to substantially mitigate the impact of construction on the communities — including financial support to the businesses themselves — has made it so that the new transit is the dream, but the construction has been a nightmare,” Coun. Josh Matlow, who represents Ward 12, said.
The city councillor is taking aim at Ontario transit agency Metrolinx, as its most recent deadline to complete the 19-kilometre light rail transit line by the year’s end fast approaches — and seemingly with no quick end of construction in sight.
Work on the LRT began in 2011 and was supposed to wrap up in 2020. However, challenges — including the discovery of a concrete defect and a legal dispute between Metrolinx and contractor Crosslinx Transit Solutions — have led to repeated delays and headaches.
Metrolinx now aims to release an updated construction schedule “before the end of the month [September],” a spokesperson for the transit agency said, adding, “Significant progress has been made on the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, and Metrolinx continues to work with Crosslinx Transit Solutions on the completion of this project.”
Metrolinx stated on Friday that the Eglinton Crosstown LRT will not be completed by this fall despite previous promises. “Unfortunately, while progress has been made, Crosslinx Transit Solutions have fallen behind schedule, are unable to finalize construction and testing, and therefore the system will not be operational on this timeline,” Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster said in a statement.
For businesses along Eglinton Avenue, construction over the years has meant less foot traffic and parking spots and construction hoarding that blocks storefronts.
“It’s a lot,” said Maureen Sirois, chair of the Eglinton Way BIA, describing the impacts that construction is having on the local business. “Accessibility, visibility, parking — these are the things that impact [businesses] depending on where you’re sitting within the construction zone.”
Because of these issues, Sirois agreed with Matlow that financial compensation from the province is in order.
“Businesses along Eglinton were asked to bear the burden of construction for the greater good so that we would all benefit from transit eventually,” Matlow said.
The Ministry of Transportation said in an emailed statement that the province and Metrolinx “are working closely with communities, including local businesses and residents impacted by the construction of provincial transit projects.”
The Ministry added that Metrolinx has dedicated funding to help businesses out.
“Metrolinx continues to provide ongoing support to businesses through marketing initiatives such as ‘Experience Eglinton’ and Shop Local campaigns,” reads the statement. “To date, the government has allotted $3 million in additional business supports.”
Sirois said her BIA welcomes funding for initiatives like marketing and beautification, but, she suggested, it’s not the same as putting money directly in the pockets of businesses that have been devastated.
“The businesses that have been impacted will never get that back again — they’ve lost all those years,” she explained.
Along with Metrolinx and the province, the city should do more to manage traffic, including by putting up signs with detour routes and working with Toronto police on enforcement, Matlow said.
What Matlow has seen unfold in midtown doesn’t just leave him concerned right now. He’s also worried about how future infrastructure projects may affect other neighbourhoods, as well, given that construction on Metrolinx’s Ontario Line subway is set to ramp up.
“Our experience is that Metrolinx has treated both local residents and small businesses as collateral damage,” he said. “They treat communities as mere construction zones, and that’s not good enough.”