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Transportation Minister Glen Murray, left, stands with Laura Albanese, MPP for York South-Weston in front of the Tunnel Boring Machine as politicians speak to the media about the new Eglinton Crosstown construction site in Toronto on Tuesday April 9, 2013.

Two decades after the cancellation of the Eglinton subway, tunnelling for a new underground transit along the key Toronto artery is set to begin.

Transportation Minster Glen Murray is expected to launch Wednesday morning the first two of four tunnel-boring machines that will claw out the Crosstown line under Eglinton. The other two TBMs are to launch next year and the line is scheduled to be complete by 2020.

The new tunnels will be one of the biggest signs of progress among the $16-billion in transit projects currently under way in Toronto. And the tunnelling, which has been repeatedly delayed, offers a taste of the future projects promised by regional transit agency Metrolinx.

The Crosstown is a 19-kilometre light-rail transit route that will run underground for 11 kilometres across the core of the city and on the road at its western and eastern ends. It will have a dedicated right of way when above ground, meeting the definition of higher-order transit.

The dig will be done by four Canadian-manufactured TBMs that will build the tunnel as they advance in 1.5-metre pushes. Small crews riding the gargantuan machines will guide them by laser as each moves forward at an average sustained pace of about 14 metres per day.

The Crosstown is part of the so-called Big Move – an ambitious $50-billion plan put together by Metrolinx to expand transit over the next generation. Although less than one-third of that total is currently funded, the Eglinton line is among the projects now being pushed ahead.

Metrolinx says that the new line, which will intersect with 54 bus routes, three TTC stations and GO Transit, will cut travel time in the area dramatically for transit passengers.

Developers have already reacted to the coming transit line with a growing building boom on Eglinton. And Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat has spoken about the city's centre of gravity shifting north. In an April interview, she noted that Eglinton cuts across the heart of Toronto, from east to west, and is roughly equidistant between the lake and the city's northern boundary at Steeles.

"There's an opportunity, in keeping with this notion of building complete communities, to spread some of [the city's] density out, particularly along our light-rail transit corridors," she said. "If you think about it, there's, along Eglinton, a lot of mid-rise sites where we can be filling in some of the gaps in the infrastructure of the city. And if we can do that along an area where we have this spectacular new light-rail transit, and hopefully new cycling lanes, that could be a really important spine in the city."

The western section of Eglinton, beyond the Allen expressway, was to get higher-order transit under a 1980s plan called Network 2011. Governments changed and the plan went through several iterations before the Progressive Conservative administration of premier Mike Harris killed the Eglinton subway.

The preliminary excavation was filled in and will play no part in the upcoming dig.