Back to the drawing board for Durham GO train extension plans

DURHAM — Local Durham officials were shocked to learn last week that Metrolinx is considering alternative routes for the Bowmanville GO train extension, including running trains south of Hwy. 401 through an industrial area instead of central Oshawa, Courtice and Bowmanville.

Metrolinx and the Ontario government are considering major changes to a planned Bowmanville GO train extension including running the extension south of Highway 401 and cancelling stations in central areas of Oshawa and Bowmanville.

Durham Region chairman John Henry said local officials only learned of the potential changes hours before a public meeting hosted by Metrolinx on May 2.

“What they’ve told us is they’ve got four options, one being the route we’ve all known about which is on the north side of  (Highway) 401, but there’s some other options they wanted to talk about,” said Henry.

“We don’t know how much time or effort they’ve put into these three other alternatives, we were caught off guard by the discussion,” he added.

The original plan — announced in June 2016 by the former Liberal Ontario government and Metrolinx — included four new GO rail stations and a bridge over Hwy. 401 near the existing Oshawa GO station to connect with the CP corridor. The commitment was to extend GO train service to Bowmanville by 2024.

Oshawa stations were planned for Thornton Road and on Howard Street on the former Knob Hill farms property which Metrolinx expropriated in 2014. Clarington stations were planned for Courtice Road and Baseline and Bowmanville on Martin Road just south of King Street West.

Though Metrolinx hasn’t released details of the four options under consideration, Henry said they include running the GO extension along the CN rail line south of Hwy. 401 which would bypass central Oshawa and run mainly in an industrial area.

Metrolinx did not provide further details on the four options when requested and instead directed questions to transport minister Jeff Yurek.

Yurek responded with an e-mailed statement.

“The past Liberal government wasted money on inefficient and incomplete plans that failed to serve the transportation needs of Durham Region,” he said. “The Wynne government announced an irresponsible expansion plan that would have taken years longer to build and cost twice as much as originally estimated and announced. They also failed to deliver all-day GO service.”

He said his government was committed to transit improvements.

“Our government is working with Metrolinx to deliver real transit relief for Courtice and Bowmanville,” said Yurek. “I have asked Metrolinx to find enhanced options to deliver more trains past Oshawa sooner and they’re currently reviewing four improved options for the people of Durham Region. We’re also working with our partners, the Region of Durham, CN and CP, and we will deliver expanded GO Train service to Bowmanville.”

Henry said the planned GO extension impacts everyone in Durham as it will impact Hwy. 401 congestion and public transit planning.

“If there are four plans or four ways to do this, it’s time to have the conversation with the municipalities that are affected, Clarington, Oshawa and the Region of Durham because we provide the buses to get to the GO station,” he said.

Both Henry and Oshawa mayor Dan Carter raised concerns about running the train south of Hwy. 401 through an industrial area.

Carter pointed out that central Oshawa GO station would be in an area with high population density that is well-served by public transit and has active transportation access through cycling and walking trails. He said many of the economic benefits of the extension would be muted by a move south of Hwy. 401.

“It does not benefit our community, the jobs, the investment or the opportunity to be able to service our community in an efficient way, it would be very disappointing to the City of Oshawa if that was the case, very disappointing,” said the mayor of the southern options.

“The central station had connections for our active transportation master plan, the Michael Starr trail, it had opportunities for people to walk or cycle to the station, that sort of connectivity south of 401 would be a challenge,” added Oshawa commissioner of development services Warren Munro.

An economic analysis of the original GO rail expansion plans found it would generate $1.1 billion in transit-oriented development in the area and create a projected 21,000 jobs.

The study projected the possibility of 2,600 new residential units within a kilometre of the central Oshawa station as well as 10,000 square feet of new office space and 558,000 square feet of new retail and commercial space. The Bowmanville station could have 3,300 new residential units nearby with 151,000 square feet of new office space and 121,000 square feet of new retail and commercial space.

Munro said a southern route likely wouldn’t hit those jobs and residential numbers in Oshawa.

“I can’t think of a site that is developable that has the same context, scale and size as Thornton Corner and the Knob Hill Farms site.”

Clarington mayor Adrian Foster said his municipality wants to work with Metrolinx to move the project forward.

“We obviously have concern for the hundreds, possibly thousands, of people who bought houses by the sites identified,” he said. “We will do whatever Metrolinx needs us to do.”

Durham Progressive Conservative MPP Lindsey Park, who represents Clarington, said she is pressing for community meetings in Oshawa and Clarington that will include more information about the four options.

“My main concern is that taxpayers are getting the best value for the dollars invested and what I’m pressing both the (transport) minister and Metrolinx for is that they complete the costing of all the options and evaluate which use of taxpayer dollars gets the most increase in service and what’s going to get the train to Bowmanville with that increased service in the most timely manner.”

Parks said she was shocked to hear from Metrolinx leaders that the existing plan for the extension could not meet the 2024 deadline and said she has asked the government to advance negotiations with CP and CN for the use of its tracks.

“Our community has been waiting for the GO train for decades and it’s time to get the project done.”

by Reka Szekely Reka Szekely is a reporter with Metroland Media Group’s Durham Region Division.   Original story, click here

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