Officials at Pearson airport have unveiled preliminary drawings for a new passenger facility, a development they hope will be a destination for transit lines yet to be built.
The pitch from the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, backed by politicians from the region, comes amid a growing sales job for transit at the airport. Noting that the vast majority of people who use or work at the airport get there by automobile, advocates of this plan say that there needs to be fundamental shift to transit.
"Toronto Pearson is a world-class airport in every respect, and Southern Ontario is a diverse and dynamic region," Howard Eng, president of the GTAA, said in a statement.
"Now is the time to ensure that better transit options are in place; otherwise we risk squandering the significant opportunities that are part and parcel of the exciting growth that the airport, the city and the region are experiencing."
The proposal, which would be funded by the GTAA and has been estimated by them at $500-million, would involve a new and larger passenger processing terminal where travellers would be able to check in for flights and clear security. The plan also calls for new mixed-use commercial space, with room for retail, office space or hotels.
But the biggest change would be making Pearson more accessible to transit. Advocates call for it to become a sort of Union Station for the western side of city – albeit one that would serve far fewer people than the station downtown.
The airport has historically given short shrift to transit – even now, the taxi rank is sited at the most convenient spot, while people taking the bus have to walk a fair distance – but cannot continue to grow indefinitely while relying on automobile access.
With research showing that about 90 per cent of people drive to the airport, there is much room for growth if Pearson can be linked to a number of proposed or floated transit projects.
It's a bold pitch made more daring by the fact that transit plans for the region already are moving ahead. Although politicians have repeatedly shown their willingness to change on the fly – a greater emphasis on GO rail by the province, for example, or Toronto Mayor John Tory's acceptance of LRT instead of heavy rail on Eglinton Avenue – the broad strokes of the transit vision hasn't shifted too much in the past few years. But the GTAA is hoping to tweak the plans in new ways.
As envisioned, a transit hub would involve changing the Finch LRT, which is in its very early stages, from its current terminus at Humber College and extending it instead to the airport. It also requires that the proposed Eglinton West LRT be built to run to the airport. This has been proposed by Toronto but the project would need a substantial contribution by the city of Mississauga, which reacted unhappily to the idea.
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie was not available for interview Tuesday afternoon. In a comment forwarded by her office, she stressed that no formal request had been made for her city to fund part of this LRT project. She also called for "an adult conversation" about giving cities the power to raise money for transit.
"An important place to start would be by allocating 1 per cent of the existing HST to a transparent, accountable and dedicated city-building fund," she said.