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The Metrolinx Overpass

In early 2015, Metrolinx, Ontario’s regional transportation agency, surprised the Davenport community — and Toronto City Council — by announcing plans to construct a 1.5 kilometre-long train overpass through the heart of our established residential neighbourhood.

This two-track, three-storey rail line will pass within metres of century-old homes, businesses and parks. The overpass will separate the current rail-rail crossing at the Davenport Diamond, where east-west and north-south tracks intersect.

By 2025, Metrolinx hopes to run two-way, all-day 15-minute service along the Barrie corridor. This would mean 180 trains per day, compared with the 14 that were running at the time of the proposal.

 

Metrolinx has budgeted $210 million for this project. Construction is set to begin in 2019, and Metrolinx estimates it will take two years to build. The agency has said it plans to replace the high-polluting and loud diesel trains that currently run along the line, although it has so far refused to commit to any timeline for electrification.

Metrolinx’s proposal was met with significant criticism from the Davenport community, and also from the City of Toronto.

Video:3D Flythrough of Overpass

Video: Students Take Action

What is the precedent for a project like this?

It appears no other city in North America has built an elevated rail corridor of this scale through an established residential community within the last 100 years. Residents are worried about noise, and whether their homes (many of which were built in the late 1880s) will shake. They’re worried about safety beneath the overpass at night, the visual impact on the community, and pollution from increased diesel train traffic.

Toronto City Council and City planning staff have expressed many of the same concerns as members of the Davenport community. In December of 2015, City Council voted 38-1 in favour of a tunnel compared to an overpass to address the grade separation.

“If we look at best practices, quite frankly the world over, building overpasses for infrastructure is something that has fallen out of favour particularly because they do create very tough conditions at grade. And because of the visual impacts as well as the noise impacts you tend to sterilize the areas around this elevated infrastructure.”  — Jennifer Keesmaat, Chief City Planner of Toronto.

While Metrolinx has frequently cited public realm improvements in their public meetings, there has not been a dedicated budget set aside for maintaining the public spaces they say they are planning to build.

Photo credit: Patrick Morrell.

What is response of the community and its elected officials to this project?

Toronto City Council, local councillors Ana Bailao and Cesar Palacio, Davenport schoolboard trustee Marit Stiles, Provincial Liberal MPP Cristina Martins and Federal Liberal MP Julie Dzerowicz each publicly urged Metrolinx to press pause on their plans due to the large number of outstanding questions and concerns.

 

Nevertheless, in January 2016 Metrolinx began its Transit Project Assessment Process (TPAP) for the overpass option only. The first phase concluded in May 2016, and the agency is now in its first stage of design for the overpass. The transit agency will not undertake a full Environmental Assessment for this project.

In response to this, Options for Davenport made the decision to launch its own study -- entitled "Our EA, Our Say" -- which studied the grade separation project from a more holistic point of view, resulting in a 105-page report including a comprehensive review of past studies of the

Davenport Diamond, a noise study, a community feedback survey with over 500 respondents, and a history of the area. Options for Davenport concluded that, if money was no object, it is undeniable that a tunnel is the best option for the Barrie Corridor. It avoids almost all of the local residents' concerns, while also achieving Metrolinx’s goals of increasing GO train service on the Barrie Corridor. But given the current context, in which Metrolinx is proceeding with an overpass, our organization is participating in the planning process for the overpass, toward ensuring the community voice continues to hold strong and is taken into account in the project planning moving forward.

To read our full position statement on the Davenport Diamond overpass project, click here.

What are the community demands for the overpass project?

In May 2016, Options for Davenport was one of 9 community groups that led a petition signed by over 2000 Davenport residents. It demanded basic requirements for the overpass to reduce the negative impacts — noise, diesel pollution, safety concerns, visual obstruction — on the local community. We asked Metrolinx to:

 

•   Develop a comprehensive vision for the project, including the multi-modal GO station at Bloor and path connections north and south

•   Address noise, vibration, and safety issues and concerns

•   Establish cycling and walking connections throughout including connections to the West Toronto Railpath, the Green Line, and an elevated connection to Earlscourt Park

 

•   Devise a long-term maintenance plan and endowment fund for community programming in the lands around the overpass

 

•   Resolve design concerns relating to Dupont St, where there is already an existing rail bridge

 

•   Guarantee that no more than the proposed 36 trains per day will be in use until electric trains are operational on the corridor, and provide the community with a date commitment to electrify the corridor.

 

Options for Davenport is continuing to push for these community requirements.

A coalition of Davenport community groups, with the support of City Councillor Ana Bailao, came together to write and gather signatures on a community petition with a list of community demands related to the overpass. MPP Cristina Martins read the petition at Queen's Park in June 2016.