Crosstown work ‘going to get much worse’

What effects will the next six years of Crosstown LRT construction have on the businesses along Eglinton Avenue?

That was the question a dozen people, many of them business owners, were hoping would be answered during a Nov. 18 presentation by Jamie Robinson, the community relations director for provincial transportation authority Metrolinx.

“If you thought it was bad over the past couple of years, it’s going to get much worse,” Robinson said. “And that’s the reality.”

During his 70-minute discussion, hosted by the Toronto Midtown Business Association (TMBA), Robinson was frank about the multiple ways that construction of the Crosstown, which is expected to be completed in September 2021, could make life miserable for midtown business owners and residents alike.

But he also emphasized the benefits, including the support Metrolinx can offer businesses to help them weather the coming storm.

“We absolutely recognize that our work … has had a significant impact on businesses working along Eglinton,” he said. “So we do our best to work with everybody to mitigate those issues wherever possible.”

Among the revelations Robinson shared was the fact that, while recent work on the station headwalls was staggered — so that, for instance, the Bathurst and Avenue stations would be worked on at the same time, but not Bathurst and Chaplin — many of the actual stations will be constructed at the same time.

“We’re going to work to mitigate it as much as possible, but that’s the kind of impact it’s going to be,” he said. “We typically haven’t impacted a lot of the north-south traffic thus far, but we’ll probably be impacting more of that stuff during that stage of construction.”

To the complaints from many business owners that Metrolinx doesn’t provide them with firm enough timelines, Robinson said the contract in place with many of the organization’s tunnel contractors was inherited from the TTC “and, by any measure, is a crap contract,” he said, requiring only 14 days’ advance notice for any work done.

Future contractors would be required to notify Metrolinx staff 60 or 90 days in advance depending on the work, he said, and face stiff penalties up to $50,000 for noncompliance.

“We built into this (latest) contract an incentive for the contractor to get in and out as soon as possible,” Robinson said. “And we’d do our damnedest not to impact the north-south traffic on Avenue, for example, at the same time we’re doing it at Bathurst.”

Robinson talked about Metrolinx’s “Experience Eglinton” campaign, which provides BIAs along Eglinton with signage and promotional funds.

“You want us to support a festival, you want a billboard, you want marketing…. We’ll do it,” Robinson said. “We did some market research, and one of the things we found out is … that people are inclined to support local businesses. They don’t want to go to big-box stores. They want to go to the local restaurants, the local shops, their local salons.”

Many of the business owners who watched Robinson’s presentation said they were pleased with the breadth and depth of information when asked about it afterward. TMBA Vice-President Diana White called it “broader” and “more realistic” than anything she had heard so far.

“I was worried to learn the exact extent of the project over the next four years,” White said. “But I was inspired by the commitment Jamie has made to mitigate as much as possible.”

TMBA member Susan Patterson agreed.

“It sounds like there’s going to be a lot of disruption for more years than I expected, but it’s nice to see what the outcome will be,” she said. “We need to modernize, and I think it will be great for the city.”

Not every guest was inspired, however.

“It’s going to be a fiasco,” Shari Lash, a local business owner and member of the Eglinton Park Residents Association, said. “Our neighbourhood is not going to be livable. It’s not going to be livable for residents, it’s not going to be livable for businesses… I feel like we’re going to be drowning in construction.”

Lash said Robinson and Metrolinx were ignoring the numerous condominium developments that have been proposed along Eglinton Avenue, many of which are likely to start breaking ground around the same time.

“The disregard for how it’s affecting people is astounding,” she said. “I live at Oriole Parkway and Eglinton, and for me to walk towards Mount Pleasant is already so unpleasant that if I can stay at home, I will.”

Nor was Lash pleased that after Robinson’s presentation, which focused more on the Crosstown than its effect on businesses, only three guests had a chance to ask questions.

“Nobody was heard,” Lash said. “And nobody was asking the important questions that need to be answered.”