Toronto will have a Downtown Relief Line within 15 years.
At least, that's the plan outlined Thursday by the CEO of Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency.
At an afternoon luncheon at the Toronto Board of Trade, Bruce McCuaig announced that the agency intends to complete long-sought subway connecting the Bloor-Danforth line to downtown as part of the next phase of its Big Move project. That would see it built sometime around 2027, 10 years earlier than previously planned.
Under the original Big Move plan, drafted in 2008, the line wasn't scheduled to be built for another 25 years. Now, the route would be completed as part of the next wave of Metrolinx projects, and would get underway after the construction of the city's four new LRT lines.
"We're bringing forward this project because of a simple and stark fact: our subway system just can't manage the volumes of people trying to enter or exit the downtown area," McCuaig said.
Ridership on the already crammed Yonge subway is projected to increase by 25% over the next 20 years. The DRL would take the pressure off giving by riders an alternate route into the city core.
McCuaig said that the DRL will open up the possibility of a northward extension of the Yonge line to Richmond Hill, which will also now be tackled in the next phase of the Big Move. Without the DRL, adding more stops to the Yonge line would overload it.
A design for the DRL has yet to be finalized, but several options were floated in the TTC's recent Downtown Rapid Transit Expansion Study. Most have the line going from Danforth near Pape down to Queen and Yonge, but McCuaig said Thursday that using existing GO rail corridors is also an option.
Metrolinx's rough estimates predict it would be 13 km long and carry 107 million riders by 2031.
The DRL would cost an estimated $7.4 billion, but how to pay for it remains an open question. In June, Metrolinx will bring forward an investment strategy that is expected to recommend dedicated revenue tools for regional transit. Congestion charges, road tolls, and new taxes are some of the options being considered.
The entire next phase of the Big Move, which includes projects throughout the GTHA, will cost $34 billion.
While Thursday's announcement about the DRL will buoy beleaguered subway users, there were notable omissions from the Big Move update. Extending the Eglinton Crosstown LRT to Pearson Airport and connecting the Sheppard East LRT to the Toronto Zoo have in the past been floated as part of the next step of transit expansion, but both are absent from the plan.
McCuaig said the LRT extentions are "not off the table," but "we just think they will be for a later date."
A bus rapid transit route along Dundas in Toronto's west end, the electrification of the air rail link, and light rail lines in Brampton and Mississauga, are also part of the Big Move update announced Thursday. The projects are to be completed by 2031.