Metrolinx won’t confirm if Hurontario LRT will meet its 2024 completion date; Province mum on cancelled downtown loop
Already two years behind schedule, completion of the city’s largest ever infrastructure project, to bring Mississauga closer to becoming a more transit-oriented municipality, was supposed to happen this year, but Metrolinx will not confirm it is on schedule, after the original opening date for the Hurontario LRT was pushed back from 2022.
Since the launch of the $4.6 billion light rail transit project, which will stretch 18 kilometres from Port Credit in the south to Steeles Avenue in Brampton at the northern end, the timeline for completion has seen several alterations with the opening date moving further and further back. The project was setback by pandemic-related delays, supply chain issues and logistical challenges.
Ground was finally broken in March 2020 after negotiations between the Province and City.
The rail line will run along Hurontario Street, the city’s major north-south artery, from the lakeshore through downtown and just across the Brampton border before turning around. The Hurontario Street corridor is home to thousands of jobs and housing units in dense sections planned for urban living in a major transit thoroughfare. The area was identified through Metrolinx’s Regional Transportation Plan, also known as the Big Move, more than a decade ago as a key corridor with significant growth forecast over the next twenty to thirty years.
“In order to facilitate the forecast growth along the HLRT corridor and the establishment of four mobility hubs along its length, an appropriate reliable, frequent, comfortable and convenient rapid transit service is required to meet the forecast demand, improve the vibrancy of the corridor, and ensure effective connections to other links in the inter-regional transit network,” a 2016 Benefits Case Analysis from the provincial agency detailed.
The new transit system will feature 19 stops, travel through two urban growth centres and connect to major transit systems including GO Trains (Milton and Lakeshore West lines), the Mississauga Transitway, Brampton Transit, ZUM and MiWay.
“Once in service, the 18-kilometre Hazel McCallion Line will bring a new and reliable method of transportation to a rapidly growing region,” a spokesperson from Metrolinx, the provincial agency spearheading the project, said. They noted “significant progress” was made in 2023 with major civil infrastructure installed, construction of the new bridge at Eaglewood now finished, Mary Fix Creek reconstruction complete and trackwork installed at 20 of 54 intersections.
The spokesperson did not confirm whether the agency is on track to meet the current 2024 timeline for completion.
“When construction nears completion and we move into the testing and commissioning phase, we will be in a better position to provide a specific opening date.”
During a general committee meeting in April last year, City staff highlighted the revised construction schedule for the project, which they said would see “substantial completion” in 2024. Metrolinx assured staff and council in April that despite delays, the LRT construction would meet its revised target — after the original plan to have the line completed by 2022 was abandoned — for completion in 2024, although the agency cautioned it might not open till 2025. At the time, 15 areas along the 18-kilometre route were undergoing construction with City staff in the final stages of reviewing submitted design packages by the building consortium handling the project, Mobilinx, to ensure there were no conflicts with existing infrastructure.
Geoff Wright, the City’s Commissioner of Transportation and Works, noted during the April update that all deadlines in the agreement between the City and Metrolinx had been met at that time, following the shifting of the initial timeline from a 2022 opening date. The contract with Mobilinx is a public-private partnership that will see the Hurontario LRT designed, constructed and run by the consortium of companies over a 30-year term, under the agreement, while it will remain publicly owned throughout.
Work in 2023 included ongoing corridor construction; delivery of a majority of the Traction Power Sub Stations (11 in Mississauga, used to generate consistent power for the LRT) and site completion at these stations; station construction at Port Credit GO and stop-platform construction along the north end of the corridor; installation of a push box under the Lakeshore West rails creating a passageway for the LRT to travel in and out of Port Credit Station; and commencement of the Environmental Assessment Addendum for the downtown loop that reviews the alignment within the city centre, which was previously approved by the Province in 2014 before the PCs removed the loop when they took power, citing project cost inflation.
Hurontario just south of Burnhamthorpe Rd. (top) and the LRT Port Credit GO Station entrance in the spring of 2023.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
CodeRedTO executive director Cameron MacLeod, who heads the group that advocates for rapid transit, said it’s unlikely the line will be completed by the stated date, noting that major infrastructure projects like the Hurontario LRT often overrun their timeline.
Toronto’s Eglinton Crosstown LRT, which is vastly over-budget, is an example of a high-order transit project plagued by delays. The TTC has said it’s now planning for a possible opening date of September 2024 — the most recent date — after quality concerns arose as the project edged closer toward completion. The Crosstown has been under construction for the last decade with previous opening dates in September 2021 and again in late 2022. The project was then bogged down by legal action and currently has no firm completion date. It includes 25 stops stretching across 19 kilometres of dense urban neighbourhoods. The building consortium for the project, the City and the Province have been involved in an escalating series of legal disagreements over the delays.
“There's a whole research area with regards to mega projects like this and large infrastructure projects, and just by definition, they always go over the schedule and budget… because we make too many optimistic assumptions during the planning process,” MacLeod told The Pointer.
“You can be really close to the finish line, but if one bolt is in the wrong place, it can be quite difficult to correct that small thing in a way that allows everything else to proceed at high speed. So sometimes we're stuck delayed waiting for that metaphorical single bolt that's out of place.”
While questions linger around whether the project will meet the highly anticipated opening date later this year, the route itself, which marks a major step toward Mississauga becoming a transit-oriented city, has been met with controversy since the outset. The first dispute came in 2019, when, as the Province announced Mobilinx would construct the project, Infrastructure Ontario quietly shifted the schedule for completion to 2024, two years later than planned.
One major feature of the project, the downtown loop demanded by City leaders a decade ago, was removed by Premier Doug Ford unexpectedly less than a year after he took office. Just before the $4.6 billion project was awarded in 2019, the downtown loop — approximately two kilometres of track around City Hall and the Square One Mall — was axed from the design in an attempt to shave costs, its absence reducing transit connectivity and access to the city’s downtown core where major residential and commercial development is ongoing.
City Council protested the decision ahead of the 2019 federal election, using the campaign period to advocate for funding from higher levels of government in the hopes Ottawa would chip in to pay for the cancelled portion. Ford argued the slash in the design was needed as cost estimates had increased significantly since the project was originally approved by the provincial Liberals in 2014. According to sources who previously spoke to The Pointer, the removal of the loop saved at least $200 million.
In February 2022, the downtown loop was casually resurrected after Premier Ford informally offered Mississauga hope for the key section of the LRT ahead of the June provincial election that year, in typical pre-election fashion.
“[The downtown loop is] something we all want and we’ll make it happen eventually, sooner or later,” Ford assured Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie at the time during an announcement naming the LRT line after former mayor Hazel McCallion. “My Finance Minister and President/Treasurer, will probably shoot me through the screen for saying that right now, but that's our goal to make sure that we finish the loop.” At the time, the Premier did not say when the loop’s funding would be restored. Nearly two years later, City Hall is still in the dark.
In a recent email to The Pointer, when asked if the Province is still committed to providing funding for the downtown loop, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Transportation avoided the question: “The Province is working with the City of Mississauga to deliver this project which will bring a new and reliable method of transportation to the region to better connect communities and spur economic growth.”
City staff and local elected officials have made clear the downtown loop is critical to future growth and current plans to make the city centre one of the GTA’s most vibrant urban growth areas, through the attraction of private investments. Those investments, they say, are tied to infrastructure commitments like the LRT loop that was supposed to ring the downtown where tens of thousands of units are being constructed, after developers were told the LRT would travel along their doorstep.
The downtown loop, which was cancelled, featured three stations around Square One; the Province has not formally committed to restoring the loop.
The loop has been featured in all of Mississauga’s asks to upper levels of government ahead of budget season and elections since it was cancelled, hoping for guaranteed funding to bring it back. The City has cautioned that the cost of the project is far too high for Mississauga to take on alone and it needs the financial support of its government counterparts.
Requests to reinstall the loop were made once again in the City’s most recent pre-budget submission to the Province, which will be presented to council at its January 10 general committee meeting. The report notes Mississauga is seeking support from the provincial government to fund key transit projects in the City, particularly for the operating costs of the Hurontario LRT, which staff say “will be a significant cost for the City.” Under the recommended 2024 federal and provincial priorities, the staff report states “Mississauga is underserved by rapid transit compared to other GTA municipalities. Key transit projects are needed to support sustainable communities with the housing targets we have been given by the province.” These priorities include the downtown loop.
A spokesperson from Infrastructure Canada told The Pointer that “To date, the City of Mississauga has not submitted a formal application to Infrastructure Canada for the Hazel McCallion Line project,” adding that “All applications are assessed against the merit criteria of each of our programs, which can vary depending on program objectives.”
“In order to help the City realize the full potential of downtown Mississauga, the downtown loop must be considered a funding priority,” the latest City budget submission states. “Moving forward with the [Hurontario LRT] project inclusive of the downtown loop represents major steps towards transformational transit improvements that our residents and businesses within the downtown and along the Hurontario corridor are depending on.” The document also asserts the loop is critical to supporting the growth of the City’s downtown core, which is anticipated to grow by 50,000 residents in the coming years.
Crombie previously explained to The Pointer how critical the loop is to making the LRT more accessible for residents and improving connectivity to the broader transit system, acting as the main spine of the City’s public transportation network.
According to the City’s projections, the addition of the loop would allow for increased frequency of service. The current design would see 7.5 minutes between trains on Hurontario Street, however, with the loop, there would only be 2.5 minutes between trains in the downtown circle and 5 minutes between trains on Hurontario Street. Additional trains would also be required with an increase from 16 an hour operating without the loop to 24 per hour with it.
A spokesperson from the City said restoration of the cancelled portion continues to be a top priority for Mississauga, and staff remain open to working with all levels of government to see this implemented.
“City staff continue to prioritize the Downtown Loop, which was removed from the project by Metrolinx in 2019 due to budgetary constraints. The City has not received any updates from the Provincial government.”
“With staff proceeding with the EA Addendum process, the City is ensuring the alignment of the loop is relevant to the business case to justify the return on investment. The loop may not be constructed as quickly as we would like, but City staff will examine alternate funding opportunities to build it at a future date.”
The spokesperson noted the City has been assured by Metrolinx the route’s design will allow for a downtown loop to be “easily added back in the future” without affecting the line’s operations. Metrolinx previously confirmed to The Pointer the design and construction of the line does not “preclude the reinstatement of the loop at a future date.” At the time, the spokesperson said Metrolinx’s goal is to continue the delivery of the existing project on time and within budget in 2024. While the current project does allow for modifications, the spokesperson said the design and costs will have to be updated if the loop is reintroduced.
A rendering of the Hurontario LRT (top) just north of Burnhamthorpe Road. (Metrolinx); Construction underway at the intersection of Burnhamthorpe Road and Hurontario Street (bottom) looking north toward Square One Mall.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
MacLeod said it’s “absolutely possible” to add the loop in later, though it would involve further disruption of the existing construction plan. He noted that, depending on the design, the vast majority could be completed without disrupting the existing line. However, there would be a point where the existing work needs to be shut down to connect the tracks. This was the case with Ottawa’s light rail transit system, which has faced myriad challenges. In May 2020, Ottawa shut down its Line 2 service which was initially supposed to reopen two years later in 2022 but that date has since been pushed back to 2024.
MacLeod said in an ideal world these sorts of delays to expand systems would ideally be avoided by building a complete project from the beginning, which is much less expensive and prevents disruptions that can hurt business and curtail transit takeup. “But we are in a situation where governments are making choices about spending and it's challenging to balance all those needs.”
“So it shouldn't be seen as surprising that changes like this happen. But it is absolutely frustrating when a valuable loop like this that would connect many more riders and many more jobs didn't make the cut and hasn't been restored yet,” he added. “I think that this will be a phase two that needs to be fought for, probably for years. It's not going to come quickly.”
Asked if there is a point of no return where the loop could not be installed, MacLeod said while it can always be added later, the only thing that would supersede the addition would be if a different rapid transit line were installed.
“If someone built a subway down underneath Confederation Parkway or underneath Burnhamthorpe — an actual tunnel — that would be a deciding point where you’d say ‘okay, this is no longer appropriate. But that would be it. There's no physical impediment, especially if City leaders and the Province are careful about protecting how they use the road space.”
Addressing the loop, the Metrolinx spokesperson said the agency “will continue to work with our partners, including the City of Mississauga, to explore additional options in future phases of the project.” The spokesperson noted the absence of funding for the loop does not impact current project timelines.
The completion of the LRT will see two bus rapid transit systems on Lakeshore Road and Dundas Street that will run east-west and connect to the north-south rail line. As Mississauga invests to promote transit in a car dominated city, access to local routes and commute times with seamless connections will have to make transit a viable alternative to personal vehicles. Sprawling subdivisions designed for cars and lined with large single-family homes are being challenged by highrises and new bylaws have opened the door to converting many of those old suburban neighbourhoods into much more dense complete communities featuring properties that have been severed into multi-plex dwellings, serviced by nearby transit that eliminates the need for large driveways to house multiple vehicles for one family.
This urban transformation cannot happen without efficient, reliable public transportation.
MacLeod said the big factor that will ensure the LRT’s success once it's operational is predictability, which he said is vital.
“It's very important for the operations team to ensure that vehicles are traveling consistently, that they're nicely spaced out, that if people are waiting for a vehicle, it's going to be there when it says it's supposed to be there. We don't have those disruptions or things like that,” he emphasized.
“Building something that's predictable means that people can change their habits. Being clear and transparent in communications, and being careful and predictable in a good way about what happens in operations, I think is the make or break for this. It will take time for habits to change. But habits won't change if nobody trusts the system.”
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