‘It’s always prolonging:’ Business owners frustrated over another Eglinton Crosstown delay

Melissa Nakhavoly speaks with business owners after Metrolinx announced the Eglinton Crosstown LRT won't be finished by the end of 2022.

A day after the Ontario government quietly announced the 25-stop, 19-kilometre Eglinton Crosstown LRT opening is being delayed for an unspecified period of time, business owners along the corridor expressed feelings of frustration and say they are looking for answers.

“I just feel like it’s never going to be ready. It’s always prolonging, prolonging,” Jade Assaraf, one of the owners of TNT (The New Fashion) who has been on Eglinton Avenue West for around 30 years, told CityNews on Saturday while fondly remembering the shopping scene pre-construction.

“It’s been super challenging because no one can find parking and the streets have been very dirty, and I think it’s kind of making people not want to come shop here.”

Construction on the Eglinton Crosstown began in 2011 and was supposed to be finished by 2020. The project has been plagued by various delays, including COVID-19, supply chain issues and labour union strikes. Complex and unforeseen construction-related issues also impacted timelines. Informal estimates suggest the LRT line could open by the end of 2023.

Phil Verster, the CEO of Metrolinx — the provincial transportation charged with overseeing the project, issued a three-paragraph statement Friday afternoon to announce the development.

Officials didn’t respond to multiple requests from CityNews on Friday for comment and additional information such as the new estimated opening date, the specific reasons why the project has been delayed again and the decisions surrounding the release of the information on Friday.

RELATED: Metrolinx confirms delayed Eglinton Crosstown LRT won’t be done by end of 2022

However, the statement said crews with Crosslinx Transit Solutions, the private-sector consortium building the line, “have fallen behind schedule” and “are unable to finalize construction and testing” in line with an agreement to have the Eglinton Crosstown “fully built, thoroughly tested, and in service” by the end of the year.

“We know construction has been difficult for commuters, communities, and businesses along the Eglinton corridor,” Verster’s statement said.

“We are doing everything to hold Crosslinx Transit Solutions accountable and to redouble efforts to meet their commitments and complete the work quickly so we can welcome riders onto a complete, tested, and fully operational Eglinton Crosstown LRT as soon as possible.”

Kyle Nuyten, the manager of Goûter Patisserie, said the varying construction work and the lack of a firm timeline have been problematic.

“It’s hard to find consistency especially when Eglinton has become such a problem street,” he told CityNews.

It was a sentiment echoed by Eglinton Way BIA chair Maureen Sirois.

“Every time we turn around it’s another delay. It’s going to be 2020, it’s going to be 2021, it’s going to be 2022 and now it’s going to be ’23, and who knows after that? Is it really going to be ’23? we don’t know. So we’re living with uncertainty and not having that accessibility for our businesses,” she told CityNews.

“It’s too long for this kind of a project. It’s too long. It shouldn’t take this long.”

Sirois said she hopes to meet with Metrolinx to discuss compensation for those who continue to be impacted.

“We are mostly independently owned entrepreneurs who own businesses on Eglinton. We don’t have a lot of chains. These are family-owned businesses so every time there’s an impact on businesses, you are impacting a family, and that’s what puts bread on their table,” she said.

RELATED: Sinting Fest being held to encourage more visitors to Toronto’s Little Jamaica

At the end of August, the Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA) organized and presented an event called Sinting Fest in Little Jamaica in an effort to bring back visitors to Eglinton Avenue West after a decade of construction mixed with COVID-19.

Frances Delsol, vice-president of national partnerships, outreach and procurement with the BBPA, said at the time that continued systemic barriers facing entrepreneurs have meant extra support is needed for businesses.

“Ten years ago we had in excess of 300 Black businesses on Little Jamaica. Today we have a little over 70. So the impact has been great,” Delsol said.

“The Metrolinx construction has imposed severe hardships on businesses and what we’re trying to do is bring that attention to the rest of our community to say, ‘These businesses need to be here, they need to be helped and by doing so we can help them survive.’”

However, in recent months, construction barriers on sidewalks and curb lanes have been removed or significantly reduced. At the time Delsol said she hasn’t seen Eglinton Avenue West in Little Jamaica “look so good” in the past decade.

“It’s neat, you can see from end to end, people feel comfortable walking down the street, all the construction and the barricades are gone. I hope they don’t come back. I really hope they don’t come back.”

Meanwhile, Assaraf said she’s appreciative of those who continue to come out as they wait for the project to finish.

“We’re super lucky that we have really loyal clientele and fortunately supported us, but it’s super challenging.”

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