After more than a decade of dusty and noisy construction, the people who live and operate businesses along Eglinton Avenue in Toronto have been eagerly awaiting the opening of the new Crosstown Light Rail Transit (LRT) line this fall. .
However, just over a week ago, Metrolinx, the provincial agency responsible for regional transit in the GTA, announced in a blog post that completion of the $5.5 billion project was again postponed. They said the consortium contracted to build the line had “fallen behind schedule, (is) unable to finalize construction and testing”. No specific timetable for the opening of the new SLR has been provided.
“It’s disappointing, but people weren’t surprised. There are building materials in the street and palisades everywhere. There was no way they could meet their deadline,” said Louroz Mercader, who manages the York-Eglinton Business Improvement Area (BIA), home to the hard-hit neighborhood of Little Jamaica.
“There is no end in sight. It is difficult for us as a business community to plan ahead. We cannot look to the future. It’s such a mess. We can’t plan anything.
The new transit line was originally scheduled to be completed by 2020, but construction has been plagued with delays.
In October 2020, the consortium responsible for building the line, Crosslinx Transit Solutions, filed a lawsuit against Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario in which they argued that they should not be held responsible for delays or cost overruns in due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A judge sided with the consortium and the two sides renegotiated a deal in December 2021 that would have seen the line essentially complete by September 2022 and in service several months later.
The project, however, was delayed and once again the patience of people living nearby evaporated.
“We will now be dealing with this for 12 years,” Sophie Milman, a longtime resident of the area, from the newly founded Cedarvale and Upper Village Community Association, told CP24.com.
Milman said that apart from the noise and the mess, people drive dangerously through construction zones in his area and cross already narrow side streets to avoid slower main roads.
Lora Sloan, who founded the new community group, said the news last week, while not a surprise, was “unexpected” as community members, local politicians and even Metrolinx officials had been walking around just two days before the announcement of the LRT delay.
“We were then told that construction would be out of the neighborhood by the end of the year,” she said.
“Community trust has been eroded by Metrolinx’s lack of communication. Even the city was unaware of what was going on as updates are not provided. We feel in the dark and our advisers are just as distraught.
Metrolinx did not respond to multiple requests for comment from CP24.com.
Equally frustrated with continued delays and what they both call a “lack of transparency,” councilors Mike Colle (Eglinton-Lawrence) and Josh Matlow (Toronto-St. Pauls) said they intend to table a motion at the first meeting of city council after the October 24 municipal election that would ask the province to undertake a public inquiry into why the Eglinton LRT is taking so long to complete and what that can be done to avoid the myriad of delays and problems encountered during the construction of this new transit line. to repeat.
Colle said a public inquiry is the city’s best way to get answers.
“(Metrolinx) obviously has something to hide, that’s for sure. … (People) have suffered enough,” he said.
“This is the largest mass transit construction project in North America and we have a bunch of incompetent people who aren’t telling the truth about it.”
Colle said he and Matlow were working with several BIAs and local residents’ groups to gain support for the investigation so that the city council backed it.
“We really want to hold Metrolinx and the province to account,” he said.
Matlow said the impacts of this SLR project, which have been exacerbated by numerous delays, are unbearable for area residents and unsustainable for local businesses.
“It’s not just a little traffic, it’s awful. And for small businesses, every month this is delayed is another month of hanging on by a thread. Many have already gone bankrupt,” a- he said, noting that a public inquiry would serve two purposes: to provide those directly affected with the information they deserve and to ensure that such a “mismanaged and incompetently executed project” does not happen again elsewhere.
“You really have to figure out why this project was so screwed up and not do it again,” Matlow said, adding that communities along the line are being treated as “collateral damage.”
“There needs to be a plan to support both residents and businesses that are negatively impacted by these major transit projects. … Enough is enough.”
Toronto-St. Paul’s MP Jill Andrew said residents of her constituency, especially those who live in Little Jamaica and Midtown, are “appalled to hear of another delay (LRT)”.
“It is especially difficult for small business owners and owners of black-owned stores along Eglinton. Many businesses have closed, employers have been unable to keep staff on the payroll because customers simply cannot access many of the businesses they once had due to more a decade of building promise and the double devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she wrote in a statement provided to CP24.com.
Andrew said the province must immediately pass his motion to provide “financial support to small Jamaica and inner-city small businesses disproportionately affected by these delays.”
First introduced in late 2020, it calls on the Ontario government to implement an economic health and community well-being strategy for small businesses “Little Jamaica” which, among other things, provides compensation $30,000 to local businesses in difficulty.
The motion also proposes a task force mandated to ensure transparent communication between Metrolinx, the Department of Transportation and businesses in Little Jamaica, and the neighborhood’s historic designation to “recognize its unique artistic and cultural contributions and ensure that affordable housing is included in all new builds.
The NDP is also demanding that the Ford government defer HST payments for a specified period to help struggling local businesses in the interim and commit to banning commercial evictions.
Like his municipal counterparts as well as area residents and local business owners, Andrew said Metrolinx and the province must immediately provide answers and accountability for the ongoing LRT construction delays.
She also said she favors a public inquiry, emphasizing that it should not “become another stall tactic or report dust collecting on the shelves.”
“(A public inquiry) needs to articulate what went wrong and what will be done to make things right for the people of Toronto-St. Paul and beyond and the community must be on board,” Andrew said.
“Many members of the community have contacted me, frustrated by the unbearable noise pollution and traffic jams caused by these construction delays. The government must give our community concrete answers within the timelines of this construction, create and deploy appropriate immediate subsidies to cover losses, keep staff on the payroll and cover rent.
Mercader, of the York-Eglinton BIA, said the local business community has long called for a public inquiry.
“It could set the standard for how these projects are managed. … It’s in everyone’s interest that these (major transit) projects get done right,” he said.
“I think it’s important that we learn from the mistakes that have happened and continue to happen. … We can’t do the same ones over and over again.
Mercader also said a compensation plan must be in place to support businesses directly impacted by major transit projects.
“By the time the Eglinton LRT opens, most of these businesses won’t be there,” he said, pointing to an initiative in Montreal where the province has earmarked $25 million to help local businesses survive. during the construction of major public transport.
Both ‘cautiously supporting’ a public inquiry, area residents Milman and Sloan said they also want comprehensive construction impact mitigation efforts to be implemented now, especially more than the Eglinton Crosstown was essentially delayed indefinitely.
“A public inquiry should not replace real compensation and support. … Something needs to be done to make things more manageable for the community until the job is done,” Milman said, noting that the municipality also needs to play a bigger role and have a stronger voice in support of the communities. communities hard hit by this project.
“This (investigation) should not be a way for Metrolinx to say it is doing something. We’re asking for immediate help or a reprieve now,” she said, adding that a public inquiry is a good way to inform those working on future transit projects, including the Ontario Line.
-with files from Joshua Freeman of CP24