All quiet on the western stretch of Eglinton Crosstown

Since late summer, shoppers and merchants alike along Eglinton Avenue West have been able to sigh in relief as many telltale signs of the Eglinton Crosstown’s construction — vehicles, lane closures, detours, concrete dust, temporary fencing — have faded into the distance and street parking has returned.

It’s a temporary lull, with work scheduled to resume sometime next year, but Metrolinx, the provincial government agency arranging the work, has been less than ideal in communicating its schedule, Eglinton Way BIA chair Maureen Sirois says. And it’s aggravating many of the small business owners along the street.

“Nothing happens quickly with Metrolinx,” Sirois says. “They don’t give us target dates, they don’t give us construction dates, we don’t know anything about their timelines, and they don’t keep us informed.”

Metrolinx has been working on building the Crosstown since summer 2013. The project’s boring machines originally began at Yonge, tunneled west until they reached Allen Road in April, and have been making their way back to Yonge since June.

Meanwhile, the surface work that midtown residents are familiar with has involved constructing the headwalls of future stations — underground support structures at the east and west ends that must be installed before the tunnel boring machines can arrive. Once the boring machines finish their current digging in 2016, further work on the stations can begin.

It’s a complicated project with a lot of moving gears, Metrolinx spokesperson Jamie Robinson says, and while he acknowledges that there is ‘room for improvement” in the communication process between Metrolinx and the businesses along Eglinton Avenue West, Robinson also says that the agency does its best to support business owners affected by the construction, including by distributing its construction schedule to affected parties whenever it has a firm timeline in place.

“[Contractors] do the work at a fixed price… and they’ve got an end date,” Robinson says. “How they manage within that is entirely up to them. That’s the nature of the work that gets done.”

Usually the contractors provide Metrolinx with the appropriate information in a timely manner, Robinson says, and the agency distributes it, with the goal of informing affected residents and business owners at least two weeks in advance.

“But there have been a couple of instances where some unanticipated impacts will come up late in the game,” he says.

The problem with Metrolinx’s small business support system is that it isn’t in sync with the realities of running one, Sirois says. For example, one business owner had trucks in front of his store for six days in a row, she says, and it took Metrolinx two weeks to investigate the problem.

“They said, ‘Well, the construction’s only going to be there for two or three weeks,’” she says. “Holy cow – two or three weeks! That’s a lifetime to a storekeeper.”

Ward 22 Councillor Josh Matlow, who has engaged with both sides, says that while Metrolinx does make an effort to share information, and that agency representatives have attended every meeting he’s invited them to, many, many small business owners have told him that the organization does not share its information in a timely or detailed enough manner.

“So many small business owners had to make a lot of sacrifices while this important transit project has been built,” Matlow says. “At the very least, they deserve timely information so they can make proactive decisions.”