Metrolinx says it plans to provide support to businesses affected by construction of the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension as tunneling officially began on Monday.
The provincially run regional transit agency has seen the impact on area businesses from the building of the Eglinton Crosstown light rail line, expected to open later this year, said Anne-Marie Aikins, spokesperson for Metrolinx. She was referring to the many merchants who complained the construction blocked their entrances, made it hard for customers to reach them by car and lasted many years longer than expected.
“We learned there were things we could do better,” Aikins said on Monday. “We have to communicate often and early with businesses, long before there are shovels in the ground.”
The Eglinton Crosstown West Extension, a seven-stop extension of the original line, will run 9.2 kilometers. It will run underground from Renforth Drive to Scarlett Road, then above ground to Jane Street, before heading underground again to connect with Mount Dennis Station.
Metrolinx says it doesn’t know yet when the project will be completed, but its business support plan will include commitments to:
- Make sure customers have access to storefronts.
- An advertising program to help businesses communicate with customers
- Engagement with BIAs and residents’ associations.
- The establishment of local community offices to make sure the agency is available to businesses.
In a statement, Aikins said: “We will provide a comprehensive support plan for businesses throughout the construction. We appreciate that a build this huge does create challenges for area businesses and residents and our goal is to minimize those impacts as much as possible.”
Tunneling of the extension, meanwhile, began with fanfare on Monday in Mississauga.
A ground-breaking ceremony was held at its launch shaft site. Two tunnel boring machines will dig the more than six-kilometre twin tunnels underground along Eglinton Avenue West, forming the underground section for the extension between Renforth Drive and Scarlett Road.
The machines will operate about 20 meters deep and move about 10 to 15 meters a day, according to the province.
Premier Doug Ford, Toronto Mayor John Tory, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie and Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, among others, were on hand to mark the moment. Ford said the extension is part of the province’s plan to build roads, highways and transit.
“Together with our federal and municipal partners, we’re saying to the commuters in the GTA: ‘You’ve waited long enough for transit options,'” Ford told reporters.
Alghabra said the federal government is contributing nearly $1.9 billion to the extension and is funding a study into connecting the Eglinton Crosstown to Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.
“These projects help expand our economy, help provide more options for Canadians, help provide more options for businesses,” he said.
Tory agreed, saying transit expansion is good news for Toronto and will help the city recover economically from the pandemic.
“We know that this transit extension will be good for families. It’ll be good for jobs. It’ll be good for investment. It’ll be good for tourism and it’ll be good the environment because it’ll get cars off the road,” Tory said.
Tory, however, acknowledged that construction will be hard on local businesses.
“We know transit construction is never easy. We know that people have to be patient and understanding,” Tory said.
“I know Metrolinx is committed to helping communities get through the construction and helping them get to the day when these lines are up and running and making life better for residents and for businesses.”
The city will work with Metrolinx to ensure it helps residents and businesses get through the challenges of construction, he added.
Business owner worried
Cassandra Nicolaou, owner and operator of coffee shop SuperCoffee and vice chair of the Mount Dennis BIA, said business has been challenging because of construction in the area.
“It brings up mixed feelings for sure. We just finally cleared this intersection for the first time in more than eight years,” she said. “We opened up eight years ago and it has been non-stop construction.”
But she said she is also looking forward to what the neighborhood could become because of the extension.
“We are worried that we are taking two steps forward and then three steps back in terms of making this a hospitable place for shoppers, pedestrians, cyclists and cars.”
Rosemarie Edward, program coordinator for Jane Alliance Neighborhood Services, a charitable organization for newcomers, seniors, youth and women, said improvements to public transit in the area, especially on Jane Street, are much needed. Rapid transit is going to give options to people, she said.
“During the rush hour, the wait time is very long and the buses are usually very crowded. I do believe the Eglinton Crosstown is really going to be beneficial to the community,” she said.
“Whenever you have good access to transportation, business follows, jobs come in. It’s really going to be an improvement for the community as a whole.”