Public consultations on the proposed Scarborough subway extension begin this weekend, giving residents a taste of the difficult decisions the city faces as it weighs options for the controversial project.
After all the sound and fury over transit in the east end, such details as where it will run are still to be determined. It is a key decision that will affect the final price and could affect the shape of the city's east end for decades to come.
Residents can take a closer look at the planning process for the project at public meetings in Scarborough on Saturday and Monday. On display will be the criteria for assessing parts of the project, details about the timeline and an explanation of the proliferating route possibilities being studied.
The emergence of Mayor John Tory's signature transit plan, SmartTrack, which would use a GO Transit rail corridor in the same area, has complicated the issue of where the subway might run. Having two transit lines too close together raises obvious concerns that they would compete for riders. In part, as a response to SmartTrack, the city has expanded the area being studied east to Markham Road.
Council approved the Scarborough subway extension in 2013 after extended and rancorous discussions. The plan was budgeted at about $3-billion and included a map of a 7.6-kilometre route.
The city is now looking at nine corridors along which it could one day run, with lengths ranging from 7.4 to 11.4 kilometres. They all start at Kennedy TTC station and go via Scarborough Town Centre, a stop that for some of the options would require backtracking. Each carries on to Sheppard.
"I think it's just going to keep morphing bigger and bigger," said Scarborough Councillor Paul Ainslie, who supported an earlier proposal for light rail.
"The one thing that people get frustrated about is they watched us have a long debate over an LRT versus a three-stop subway and [now] you're like, 'What is this spaghetti picture of different subway routes?'"
Under the plan being presented this weekend, the route and station locations would be chosen this year and an accelerated environmental assessment done in 2016. The trains are scheduled to be running in 2023.
Preliminary peak ridership is estimated at 9,500 to 14,000 people per hour in one direction. Those calculations were done before the emergence of Mr. Tory's transit proposal, and its impact on the Scarborough figures is not known.
Blogger and transit authority Steve Munro says the subway extension is starting to look like a project in search of a customer base.
"They've got to find some other way to get the level of ridership on that line that they claimed they were going to get," he said. "And one of the ways they're looking is by moving the line further away from the [GO] rail corridor."
Cost estimates of the subway options under consideration have not been made, although the longer ones would be more expensive. Mr. Munro speculated that the most expensive could add $1-billion to the cost.
A senior city official said that options that could exceed the original $3-billion estimate would not necessarily be ruled out. Tim Laspa, director of transportation planning, said senior city staff will be consulted if the process seems to be leading to costlier options.
"Really, what we're looking at is cost-effectiveness as a significant objective of the study, so we will be looking in all cases to keep it within the budget envelope," he said.
A final decision on the route will come back to council, but it's not clear if council will be consulted earlier to determine whether more expensive options should be included for consideration.