Scarborough Subway Extension update- Two more steps taken toward better transit

The new three-stop Scarborough Subway Extension is now two steps closer to construction. The first stage in the bidding process closed in May, and on July 10, Metrolinx released an updated environmental project report that is a key part of moving the project forward. As progress marches on, this article explores how people living in – and connecting through – Scarborough are that much closer to more convenient and reliable transit.

Scarborough residents are now even closer to the convenient, reliable transit the 7.8-kilometre Scarborough Subway Extension will bring.

The project reached two important milestones recently. First, the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) period for advanced tunnelling closed on May 29, 2020. An RFQ is the first step in the procurement process for a project, used to qualify teams that could successfully deliver it. Shortlisted teams are then invited to bid on the contract through a Request for Proposals (RFP).

Six interested bidders stepped forward with submissions in response to the RFQ, signalling a competitive start to the bidding process that will be good for taxpayers and riders alike.

Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario are reviewing their submissions and will invite shortlisted teams to respond to an RFP later this summer.

Map of the three-stop Scarborough Subway Extension route

Map of the three-stop Scarborough Subway Extension route (Metrolinx photo)

Second, Metrolinx issued a Notice of Addendum for the extension’s Environmental Project Report. This addendum would officially amend the 2017 report done for the previous one-stop proposal to incorporate additional considerations tied to the new proposal. The notice officially opens a public review period for the changes, closing on August 3, 2020

“By releasing this report, Metrolinx is showing the tremendous progress we’re making to deliver this vital transit link for Scarborough,” said Michael Hodge, senior manager for the Scarborough Subway Extension in the Metrolinx Sponsor Office.

Developed by Metrolinx, the new plan includes bringing the extension further into Scarborough and adding two more stations.

“It will offer improved rapid transit to more parts of Scarborough, increasing subway access and creating new jobs along the line, while providing more connections to jobs across the city, said Hodge.

Metrolinx projections show a projected 34,000 jobs located within a 10-minute walk from the stations along the extension by 2041.

Graphic showing projections for employment density in the area served by the Scarborough Subway Extension

Projections for employment density in the area served by the Scarborough Subway Extension (Graphic from Metrolinx’s Scarborough Subway Extension Preliminary Design Business Case)

The first station on the extension will be at the Lawrence Avenue and McCowan Road intersection, with a bus loop connecting to surface routes. It will be next to the Scarborough General Hospital, offering new convenience to frontline health care workers, patients and their visitors. The hospital is a major employer in Scarborough, with more than 2,000 employees and 500 volunteers.

The station at Scarborough Centre (north of Ellesmere) will be just east of the current SRT stop and further east than the proposed station under the one-stop proposal. This leaves extra room for a job-creating development nearby that could boost transit use and create a more vibrant community landscape.

Adjacent to Scarborough Town Centre, the station will offer connections to TTC and GO bus services, as well as planned Durham Region Transit bus services.

The station will also offer bus connections to both Centennial College’s Progress Campus and the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus, which provide education and employment opportunities to almost 30,000 students and staff.

The terminal station will be built at Sheppard Avenue East and McCowan Road. With the route extending north of Highway 401, customers travelling to or from the northern parts of Scarborough will have a new, faster transit option. In fact, fewer buses will be needed on the streets because routes that feed into the terminal station will be shorter, ending here instead of at Scarborough Town Centre.

As well, this station could connect to a potential future Sheppard Subway (Line 4) extension.

A key benefit of the project that hasn’t changed in this version is how it will ease crowding and provide a seamless connection at the existing Kennedy Station, allowing customers to avoid the transfer between Line 3 and Line 2 they experience today. There, riders will also have connections to GO Transit and the upcoming Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail Transit.

Photo showing large crane and open pit Construction at the new Crosstown portion of Kennedy Station, just north of the existing station area

Construction at the new Crosstown portion of Kennedy Station, just north of the existing station area (Metrolinx photo)

As a seamless extension of Line 2, riders will of course be able to easily connect to the new Ontario Line at Pape Station, allowing them to avoid congestion at Bloor/Yonge and Union stations if they’re heading into downtown.

While the stations and the alignment are the most prominent details in the amended plan, transit enthusiasts will find plenty of other details to mull over.

For example, the new plan adds a pocket track east of Kennedy Station.

“This is something that adds operational flexibility,” said Hodge. “You could use it to store a subway train during the day or overnight, or to turn a train back in the opposite direction if needed.”

The new plan also includes a series of eight emergency exits that will pop up to street level along the line.

“We try to plan them to have only a small impact on property, while trying to be consistent with the need for proper spacing, so that nobody would have to walk too far in an emergency evacuation,” Hodge said.

Of course, new stations and new emergency exit buildings mean that new property is needed to accommodate them. In these cases, Metrolinx works directly with owners to reach mutually beneficial agreements that provide them with fair market value for their properties, while also covering various legal, administrative and moving costs. Staff offer a range of targeted supports throughout the entire process to make it as simple and stress-free as possible, which is critical as communities recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While we know acquiring property is a very important step in advancing major infrastructure projects, we also know that COVID-19 has impacted many people’s plans for the future,” said Jason Ryan, Metrolinx’s vice president of pre-construction services. “We recognize that we need to take care of our communities during this time, and we’re firmly committed to treating property owners and tenants with the utmost respect and giving them all the supports they need.”

The addendum also confirms Metrolinx’s decision to speed up construction by using two tunnel boring machines – one being launched at Eglinton Avenue East and Midland Avenue and the other at the terminal station location on Sheppard. “The two will be working together at the same time to construct the line,” Hodge said.

The updated plan for new stations also includes details about vent shafts and traction power substations (TPSS).

“The substations are interesting because they are the buildings that take power off of the hydro lines and send it below ground to the subway tracks,” Hodge said. “Those exist throughout the city today for both the subway system and the streetcars.”

All these details and more are included in the addendum to the Environmental Project Report.

“It’s a very large document and it contains all kinds of studies and analysis that have been done on the environment impacts – considered quite broadly,” Hodge said. “It considers everything from impacts on fish and fish habitat in local watercourses to day care centres.”

Photo of residents at a public information session at Scarborough Civic Centre for the three-stop Scarborough Subway Extension in March, 2020.

A public information session at Scarborough Civic Centre for the three-stop Scarborough Subway Extension in March, 2020. (Metrolinx photo)

Another important source of information is the Preliminary Design Business Case for the extension, which Metrolinx posted in February. The business case highlighted how the three-stop extension will provide significant benefits for the community by reducing travel times, improving connectivity and increasing economic opportunities. Metrolinx followed up its release with two well-attended public information sessions in Scarborough where information was exchanged and public feedback was accepted.

The Scarborough Subway Extension is expected to be completed by 2029/30. You can learn more about the project here.

Story by Mike Winterburn, Metrolinx senior advisor and Joshua Patel senior advisor, Subways