It’s the subway issue that seldom surfaces amid the din of Toronto’s more heated transit debates. But in York Region the persistent call to extend the Yonge line north to Richmond Hill is growing louder.
Sixteen York Region mayors, councillors and senior staff pitched the $4-billion subway proposal to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week.
It’s the first time York has taken its case to the capital, said region chair Wayne Emmerson, who led the contingent.
“We’re hoping the federal government has heard us,” he said.
About 2,500 buses a day carry commuters down the corridor that would be served by aYonge subway extension, which would take about 10 years to build, with six new stops north of Finch Station, terminating at Richmond Hill Centre.
Toronto politicians insist that the Yonge line can’t be lengthened before the city gets a relief line to address overcrowding. York Region officials say there are other transit improvements that will open up capacity sooner.
They cite Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack, electrified GO service, the Spadina subway extension and the TTC’s new computerized signalling system — all due within a decade.
Emmerson was vague about when the subway extension might happen. For now, he said he’s pleased with the provincial commitment to fund 15 per cent of the project’s preliminary engineering and design. He also stressed that York wants to co-operate with Toronto.
But the deputy mayor of Richmond Hill said it’s possible shovels could be in the ground on Yonge St. by 2019.
“We’re hoping within that same time period within which the GO train service is being electrified, that’s the time we would like a subway,” said Councillor Vito Spatafora, who did not go to Ottawa.
Richmond Hill won’t benefit as quickly from expanded GO service as communities on the Stouffville and Barrie GO tracks, because the Richmond Hill GO line needs lifting to keep it from flooding, he said.
Only about 15 per cent of York commuters use transit. That needs to double by 2041, said Spatafora.
“The numbers show there would be more people willing to get out of their car and get into public transit if it were convenient. We’d like to see Markham, Richmond Hill, Newmarket and Aurora be connected better to the subway,” he said.
The Toronto mayor’s office has been clear, said a spokeswoman for John Tory.
“We cannot move forward with a northern extension to the Yonge line until we address overcrowding in the subway system, and on the Yonge line in particular,” said Amanda Galbraith.
“That will take some combination — likely all — of automatic train control, SmartTrack and the Relief Line being operational first. We have agreed to continue working together to ensure these projects are supported and advance as quickly as possible,” she said.
“We’re nowhere near being in the position to extend Yonge north. It’s just not feasible right now,” said Toronto Councillor Josh Colle, who chairs the TTC board.
All you have to do is look at the subway anywhere south of York Mills or Eglinton. Most mornings it’s already full, he said.
A spokesperson for Trudeau said in a statement that the “prime minister committed to continue working with municipal and provincial leaders on these issues, and maintaining a meaningful dialogue with municipalities across the country.”
York Region’s other infrastructure priorities include a waste-water project, more community housing and the expansion of broadband access, said Emmerson.
Numbers behind Yonge extension
$10 million: Spent to date on studies and consultations about a Yonge subway extension to Richmond Hill
23,530: Residential units planned for the Richmond Hill/Langstaff Gateway Urban Growth Centre, where the subway would terminate
165,000: Potential daily riders on a Yonge subway extension
2,000: Parking spaces attached to the subway proposal
$3.2 billion: Cost of the Spadina subway extension from Downsview Station to Vaughan Metropolitan Centre
30,000: Projected daily ridership of 6-stop Spadina subway extension
714,000: Daily ridership on the existing Yonge-University-Spadina line
10,000: Weekday ridership on the Richmond Hill GO train
11: Weekday GO trips on the Richmond Hill line
Sources: York Region; TTC; Metrolinx