The Eglinton Crosstown West Extension completes a missing link: How a decades-old expressway plan will help bridge a transit gap

Even before the Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail Transit (LRT) project is completed, Metrolinx is advancing plans for the LRT’s extension from Mount Dennis to Renforth Drive. The Eglinton Crosstown West Extension is well on track to bring more rapid transit to more of the GTA, while taking advantage of land set aside in a long-abandoned expressway plan. Here’s the latest developments and how they’re connected to a once-planned 1960s expressway.

It is a missing link in a transit system.

When phase one of the Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail Transit (LRT) project opens, its Mount Dennis terminus station will bring subway service to a neighbourhood that was once in the City of York and home to the Kodak manufacturing plant.

Though the Mississauga Transitway currently reaches as far as Eglinton Avenue at Renforth Drive, south of Toronto Pearson Airport, there will still be a gap in rapid transit service on Eglinton Avenue across Etobicoke between those two transit hubs.

Image shows tracks inside a dark tunnel.
There’s an art and science to creating tunnels, including this image, taken along the Crosstown light rail transit route. (Metrolinx photo)

But not for long.

Once the 9.2 km. Eglinton Crosstown West Extension is complete, the gap between Mount Dennis to Renforth will be closed, with seven new stations along the route. Metrolinx is also actively developing options for a planned connection from Renforth to Toronto Pearson Airport in partnership with the Greater Toronto Airports Authority.

On Aug. 20, Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario took an important step toward closing that gap when the top three teams were invited to respond to a Request for Proposals detailing how they plan to design and build the tunnels for the project, which will run from just west of Scarlett Road to Renforth Drive. Teams are currently preparing their proposals, which are due in 2021. The tunnelling contract is expected to be awarded in mid-2021.

The Metrolinx Initial Business Case for the project shows 23,000 jobs and a population of 44,000 nearby – with growth reaching 31,000 and 52,000 respectively by 2041.

“What I find really interesting about the western extension is that it serves markets in both directions,” said Joseph Ehrlich, Acting Director of Project Planning.

“There is demand building up for connections from north-south bus routes in Etobicoke, heading westbound to employment areas served by MiWay in Mississauga and for destinations further east heading to midtown Toronto, along Line 1 and into the downtown core. And of course, a significant part of Toronto is accessing jobs in Mississauga and around the airport, which has been identified as the second largest employment zone in Canada.”

“This bidirectional demand is great when building a transit line because you are going to have people using it both ways at the same time, maximizing the use,” said Ehrlich.

While there will be several surface routes feeding stations along the extension, the stations at both ends of it will be particularly important hubs.

At Renforth, the route will connect to GO Transit, TTC and MiWay buses. In fact, once the extension is complete, the combination of those buses and the Crosstown will create a rapid transit spine running from the centre of Mississauga, through Etobicoke, into midtown Toronto and as far as Kennedy Road in Scarborough, where it will connect to Kennedy Station on the TTC’s Line 2 subway.

At the Mount Dennis station, the Crosstown will link to TTC surface routes (including the busy Weston Road service), the GO Kitchener Line and UP Express.

“Mount Dennis will be a vital hub in a growing regional transit network,” Ehrlich said.

In between those hubs, the project will take advantage of previous plans to build an expressway in the area.

Land along the extension route was assembled in the 1960s for the since-abandoned Richview Expressway, which would have run along Eglinton Avenue and connected Highway 403 to a proposed extension of Highway 400 at what is now Black Creek Drive.

Fast forward to 2020 and much of that land is still undeveloped, allowing tunnels and stations to be built there with far fewer traffic interruptions, utility relocations and property impacts.

Image shows the route.

This means that the underground stations at Martin Grove, Islington and Royal York will be constructed out of the roadway on the north side of Eglinton.

“We are able to build stations out of the roadway because of the wide transit corridor that was set up in the 1960s for the Richview Expressway,” said Chris Phillips, Project Director for the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension. “Having this space will really help to reduce impacts to homes and businesses along Eglinton Avenue West. In most urban projects, you don’t have that opportunity.”

The station at Kipling will be the only underground station built in the roadway. In this case, constructing the station in the roadway will avoid major utilities and impacts below the surface to private properties and townhome developments east and west of Kipling Avenue.

Image shows a savings of 14 minutes to get from midtown to downtown.

Placing stations on the north side of Eglinton Avenue West also benefits people that bicycle across Etobicoke.

“For cyclists and pedestrians, the multi-use path on the south side of Eglinton is a key connection,” said David Panici, Sponsor for the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension. “It will remain in use throughout construction and beyond.”

Motorists will also benefit from this layout as there will be fewer traffic disruptions during the construction of the stations.

Public utility lines typically run under streets, which can cause disruptions when they need to be moved for subway construction. Using the lands from the Richview Expressway for the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension significantly reduces these kinds of disruptions by moving the alignment around the utilities where possible.

One stretch of the extension, between Scarlett Road and Jane Street, will travel on an elevated guideway and will include a new bridge over the Humber River. Tunnelling straight through to Jane Street would require building underneath three flood-prone waterways and present significant technical challenges, first in construction then in delivering service through times of heavy rain and flooding.

Running between Scarlett Road and Jane Street, with stations at each intersection, the elevated guideway will be completely separated from the road. “The elevated section will not intersect with traffic or pedestrians,” said Phillips. “We’ve committed to a system segregated from traffic that benefits users with faster travel times.”

A graphic showing time savings.

Etobicoke residents will also benefit from the lessons learned during construction of phase one of Eglinton Crosstown LRT project.

“The Crosstown is the first LRT project that Metrolinx undertook and others have followed,” Phillips said.

“So, we have the ability to learn from that direct experience and we’re having regular meetings with the teams that are working on the Crosstown LRT that is currently under construction. That knowledge is helping us make decisions that will benefit the design and construction of the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension.”

The first major works communities will see is expected to begin in summer 2021, when crews will begin building the launch shaft at Renforth Drive. Tunnel boring machines are expected to launch later in 2022, moving east along Eglinton.

To learn more about the alignment and what will be expected when work begins on the tunnel in 2021, just go here for the Metrolinx Engage page.

Story by Mike Winterburn, Metrolinx senior advisor