With construction finally under way on the long-awaited Eglinton Crosstown light rail project, the dream of zipping across the centre of the city on a largely-underground transit system is inching closer to reality.
When finished, in 2020, the Crosstown will take riders from Jane Street in the west to Kennedy Road in the east, stopping at 23 stations along the way. The system will run underground between Keele Street and Laird Drive. The Eglinton West, Eglinton and Kennedy subway stations will be modified to integrate the new line.
But while many people are thrilled to see work finally beginning, some residents and business owners are concerned that traffic, too, seems to be moving inch by inch lately.
Work began in June to relocate utilities and build headwalls along a stretch of Eglinton Avenue, west of Bathurst, in preparation for tunnel boring. Since then, the heavily trafficked area has been hit with even more congestion than usual.
“What’s supposed to take (customers) 10 minutes takes them half an hour,” says Iman Guindi, who owns the Eglinton-Bathurst Pharmacy on the north side of Eglinton.
She says, since construction began, she’s noticed a marked increase in the number of customers asking for delivery, because they don’t want to come to the area. She’s also noticed her commute from home in Mississauga has grown by about 20 minutes.
“I know it’s going to be good in a few years, when the (crosstown) is built and the area will be busy, but right now everybody’s complaining about the traffic,” Guindi says. “No one wants to come [here] because of this.”
Guindi isn’t the only one to notice a difference in the area. Alan Pintaric, treasurer and interim chair of the Upper Village BIA, says the area has lost parking spots and traffic has increased “tremendously”.
Standing outside his Health Solutions chiropractic clinic, near Old Park Road and Eglinton, Pintaric points to a Timothy’s coffee shop across the street that was almost completely obstructed for weeks because of construction equipment.
A sign provided by Metrolinx declares that the coffee shop and the business strip are now “open for business”.
“They’ve been good,” Pintaric says of Metrolinx. “They come with notices.
“For every new thing they’re planning on doing they give us a paper. They have a representative come by and they explain what’s going to be happening.”
For its part, Metrolinx is trying hard to make sure that residents and business owners aren’t caught off guard by sudden changes on the street, says agency spokesperson Jamie Robinson.
“We’re doing our best to communicate to people well in advance of the work that has to be done [that] roads that will be closed, traffic restrictions,” Robinson says.
The agency maintains a special community office on Eglinton Avenue near Dufferin Street, where people can walk in and speak with staff about the project. There is also a dedicated website — thecrosstown.ca — where visitors can sign up for e-mail alerts about construction changes.
More community offices are planned to open further east along Eglinton as the crosstown advances in that direction, Robinson says.
Open lines of communication will be even more important, going forward. Once utility relocation is complete, there will be a pause before major work gets under way, in 2015, to build the new stations and lay the lines.
“That will see very significant impacts, because that’s where you’re building the underground stations,” Robinson said. “Lots of excavation and construction.”
Measured and patient, he explains each step carefully.
In the coming months, work will be particularly intense just east and west of Allen Road, where crews will have to build extraction and launch shafts for the tunnel boring machines.
But while he strikes an optimistic tone about meeting construction deadlines and mitigating the impact of the lengthy work on businesses, Robinson is aware that, at the end of the day, no one likes dealing with arteries reduced to single lanes of traffic.
“I think people understand that it’s a large infrastructure project,” he said. “We’re going to continue to do our best to communicate with people.
“No one’s happy, but it’s a little bit of looking to the future. This is the kind of work that has to be done in order to get transit built in the city of Toronto.”
As for how local businesses plan to cope, Pintaric says they’re being proactive, hoping for the best but planning for the worst in terms of the timeline.
“Right now we’re trying to meet with the BIA representatives to see what kind of marketing we can do — what we can do to help the community have more local shopping,” he said.
Ideas include marketing campaigns and coupons encouraging people to shop local, especially around the holidays.
Looking ahead, Guindi says she can be patient but, like many others, she worries that protracted construction could hurt business, as was the case during construction of the St. Clair streetcar right-of-way. In that regard, she says the timelines is critical.
“For sure (the LRT) will be very good for everybody,” she says. “But when?”
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