Community doubt rising that Eglinton Crosstown LRT will be done by year-end target

Despite progress on several parts of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT project, heavy construction at a key interchange and work on other parts of the line raise questions about if the project will finish by the end of 2022. Nick Westoll reports.

Affected by multiple major factors, the Eglinton Crosstown completion date has shifted multiple times and the most recent projected finish date was set for the end of 2022.

But despite signs of progress in certain parts and a fully functional end-to-end track corridor, major construction works in the central part of the 25-stop, 19-kilometre Eglinton Crosstown LRT line has raised doubt among community members it will be done by the end of the year.

“The sooner the project can be done, the sooner that businesses are able to — the ones that have survived — will be able to start coming back and for the communities to start getting their neighbourhoods back,” Coun. Josh Matlow said during an interview on Friday.

“The dream is the new transit, but the construction has been a nightmare and it feels like a nightmare that we’re never going to end up waking up from. Metrolinx needs to prove what it says and get this thing done.”

CityNews has been monitoring the progress of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT project throughout 2022. In the past, officials with Metrolinx — the provincial transportation agency overseeing Crosslinx, the private-sector consortium building the line — told CityNews the target for completion was the end of December.

“We’re all working towards that deadline of completing the construction, the testing, the commissioning of Eglinton Crosstown by the end of 2022,” vice-president Paul Manhire said on Jan. 11.

“We’re still working towards a substantial completion by the end of the year, so that’s our goal,” spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins said on June 17.

Since CityNews’ last story examining progress on the line, one that highlighted how COVID-19, supply chain issues and labour union strikes have been the latest problems to impact the project, complex and unforeseen construction-related issues also impacted timelines.

“I think it would be absurd to ever suggest that one can be confident about Metrolinx’s timelines for the completion of the LRT project given that they initially promised everybody it would be done in 2020, and then 2021 and now in 2022, and notwithstanding there has been clear progress,” Matlow said.

RELATED: Is the Eglinton Crosstown LRT still on track to be finished by the end of 2022?

August Pantitlán Puranauth, a transit advocate and organizer with the passenger advocacy group TTCriders, said they wouldn’t be surprised if the deadline got pushed.

“The Eglinton Crosstown has faced so many delays. Originally it was supposed to open in 2020 and now it’s been pushed back. You know major issues with spaces like Eglinton station it’s very complex. But at the time, there’s an active subway line running above with tens of thousands of subway commuters,” they said.

“Of course, it’s continuously late, but again it’s a much-needed project and we’re near the end. What’s important right now is we continue to hold the TTC and the City to high standards to helping today’s transit riders who use the Eglinton buses or they use the Yonge Street shuttles every day.”

Puranauth also said TTCriders will be ramping up its advocacy to see transit signal priority lights installed at the at-grade portions of the Eglinton Crosstown. Currently, trains follow lights similar to general traffic versus changing a traffic signal as the light rail vehicle approaches in order to move through the line quicker.

“This is a $5.5-billion rapid transit project and really trains should not be struck behind a traffic light while cars are turning left. A train carrying of upwards to 500 people should not be stuck behind a few cars,” they said.

At the intersection of Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue, both roads meeting at the intersection are still covered in heavy-duty wood planking. There are also two sizeable open pit areas that go down several feet. At the southwest corner, concrete work can be seen approximately two to three storeys below street level.

At Bayview Avenue, the southern lanes of Eglinton Avenue East near the intersection are also under heavy construction.

Even though there is still heavy construction to be done, there have been recent milestones suggesting completion is getting closer.

Staff at Metrolinx noted in mid-August Keelesdale station (at the corner of Keele Street and Eglinton Avenue West) became the first one to receive an occupancy permit from the City of Toronto. The move means it passed multiple Ontario Building Code inspections.

Also, lane closures needed for construction near Dufferin Street and Oakwood Avenue — a longtime sore point for businesses — were removed not long ago, allowing for increased traffic flow and parking.

On the way into Scarborough, the above-ground section is mostly done. However, landscaping work still has a way to go. Many boulevards adjacent to sidewalks are still full of weeds.

At Birchmount station, there’s a planter with what appears to be withering greenery. The signature greenway east of the Don Valley Parkway is seeing a large swath of brown grass despite lush green grass along several other stretches.

RELATED: Eglinton Crosstown completion, Ontario Line groundbreaking among 2022 Toronto transit plans

CityNews asked provincial and Crosslinx officials for an on-camera interview since late Wednesday to ask more about the end-of-2022 goal. Those particular requests were ignored. Instead, a statement was issued Friday afternoon and a definitive answer wasn’t provided.

“Metrolinx continues to push [Crosslinx] to progress the Eglinton Crosstown LRT as quickly and safely as possible including all station works,” the statement said, noting the whole line will open at once and not in part.

“Metrolinx is working closely with the operator (TTC) and maintainer (Crosslinx) to ensure safe, high quality customer service on Day 1, and every day thereafter. An official opening date will be announced through this process.”

It noted all structural work at the three subway interchange stations, including Eglinton, was done and “finishing work” is underway. The statement also said all 76 light rail vehicles are doing full-speed, end-to-end testing with transit control.

When it comes to Eglinton subway station, provincial official said work is “progressing” and that the Crosstown station box is done.

“Crews are installing the architectural finishes and mechanical and electrical equipment that powers the station … The main entrance façade will be finished this fall, enclosing the building,” the statement said.

“The permanent utilities are being reinstated and backfilled in preparation for road restoration. Removal of wood decking (covering) on Eglinton Ave will begin this year. All underground structural connections into the TTC station are finished.”

With respect to those landscaping concerns, there were no specific answers either other than deficiencies will be addressed and further work still needs to happen. Officials also said maintenance falls under a 30-year contract.

“The green track includes an irrigation system to protect against drying and a drainage system to protect against flooding. Sod maintenance takes place throughout the year and includes aerating, top dressing and over-seeding, fertilization, mowing, and weed and pest control,” they said when asked about if there were any issues with the greenway.

For the boulevards with overgrown weeds and a lack of fill, the statement said Crosslinx “only plants certain trees and shrubs during specific times of the year (spring and/or fall)” and that “extensive quality reviews” are done upon completion of the landscaping contract.

“During these reviews, any outstanding deficiencies will be addressed including degrading landscaping and damaged infrastructure. Again, rehabilitating these areas is part of the [Crosslinx] scope as required through the 30-year maintenance term of the contract,” provincial officials wrote.

Meanwhile, Matlow pushed for more fulsome communication.

“I want the province and Metrolinx to be open and transparent about their deadlines, their timelines and any challenges they might have so we can understand what we’re dealing with,” he said.

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