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The Mississauga Transitway


The official map of the Mississauga Transitway

Text by Peter Drost
Revised by James Bow

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There is something to be said for persistence. For almost forty years, the Mississauga Transitway was the rapid transit line that would not be built. At least eighteen studies were commissioned between 1970 and 1992 proposing a bus-only corridor parallel to Highway 403 through Central Mississauga and, until 2010, nothing came of them.

But during this time, the population of Mississauga grew and grew. Development filled out the city, and a dense downtown built up around the Square One mall and Mississauga civic centre. The need for rapid transit in the city became clear. Finally, in 2010, construction began on the first phase of the bus-only roadway that would eventually connect the end of the Bloor-Danforth subway line to the western edge of Mississauga.

The Birth of Mississauga

Mississauga was formally established as a town in 1968 when the provincial government incorporated Toronto Township. In 1974, the province transformed Peel County into Regional Municipality of Peel, and merged the Town of Mississauga with the village of Streetsville and the town of Port Credit to form the City of Mississauga. The province did this to create a municipal government that could control the urban growth that was already spilling outside of Metropolitan Toronto's boundaries. Mississauga grew rapidly as a suburb of Toronto and, in 1974, was formally incorporated into a city. The city's growth plans were ambitious but largely oriented towards the automobile.

Mississauga's city planners foresaw the need for rapid transit to serve their burgeoning community, but they also recognized that heavy duty rail infrastructure such as subways or light rail transit were expensive to set up, and beyond what might be needed for the corridor. At the same time, the City of Ottawa had begun construction on their bus rapid transit network called the Transitway, where bus travelled on dedicated roadways, providing flexible rapid transit with lower initial construction costs.

While Mississauga was building up along key corridors like Dundas and Hurontario Streets, a corridor along Highway 403 was favoured for a bus only road for a number of reasons: it was wide and largely undeveloped, so could handle the construction of a bus-only roadway with minimal disruption. It operated through the centre of the city, and could connect with the City Centre and Square One Mall. It linked with the City of Toronto's plans at the time to build a busway (which would later be converted to a subway) along Eglinton Avenue.

A History of the Many Studies

The first study for a Mississauga Transitway was commissioned in 1970 when Mississauga was still a town. The proposal recommended reserved right-of-ways on Highway 403, Hurontario and Dixie, with express buses operating on Erin Mills corridor. Since then, many other studies have come and gone. Points of interest along the way include:

A 1975 study recommended the development of light rail on Burnhamthorpe Road in order to connect to Toronto's transit network.

The 1980 City of Mississauga Office Plan recommended an intermediate capacity system (like the Scarborough RT for the Burnhamthorpe Road corridor.

A 1985 Mississauga Transportation study recommended a grade-separated transit facility in the vicinity of the Parkway Belt (which was what the greenspace around Highway 403 and the Hydro corridor was called at the time). This "station" would be the hub of a system that would connect to the Bloor subway line, the proposed Eglinton West Rapid Transit line (under the Network 2011 proposal) and Mississauga's own busway along highway 403.

As part of a 1985 GO-ALRT (Advanced Light Rail Transit) study, four underground alignments were analyzed for the City Centre area. The recommended route along Rathburn Road lead to its protection for use as a Transitway corridor.

In 1992, an environmental assessment was completed by the City of Mississauga and the Ministry of Transportation under the province of Ontario's Let's Move program. The final price for the project, which would have seen buses running from Ninth Line to Renforth Drive, was over $500 million dollars (1992). Unfortunately, the province found itself mired in recession and deficit. The election of the Mike Harris Conservatives to power in Queen's Park resulted in the cancellation of the Eglinton West subway in Toronto. The Mississauga Transitway found itself put on hold again.

The Long Stall

This pattern mirrored the City of Toronto's own frustrations with rapid transit development. Its plan to build subways beneath Sheppard and Eglinton Avenues (the Network 2011 proposal) materialized in 1985, but languished under the Liberal government of David Petersen. New proposals to build a subway extension to Sherway Gardens and make a belt-line out of the Yonge and Spadina subways were stalled when the Petersen Liberals were defeated by Bob Rae's New Democrats in 1990. Then, after construction began on the Eglinton West and Sheppard subway lines in 1994, the election of Mike Harris' Conservative government led to the cancellation of the Eglinton West line, and the elimination of all operating subsidies and nearly all capital expenditures for public transit in 1996.

The Conservative government of Mike Harris remained ambivalent to rapid transit projects through the early part of its mandate. When it restored provincial funding for public transportation in 2001, it signalled that it understood the growing need for improved public transportation throughout the Greater Toronto Area, especially in the face of a growing economy, growing population, and increasing congestion. However, it wouldn't be until Dalton McGuinty's Liberal government really advanced the cause of public transportation development that the Mississauga Transitway was revived again.

In July 2007, the McGuinty government announced the MoveOntario 2020 proposal, a major provincial initiative that gathered 52 active public transit expansion proposals throughout the Greater Toronto Area and the Region of Waterloo, and offered the beginnings of a funding plan to build them. Toronto's Transit City network of LRT lines on Eglinton Avenue, Sheppard East and Finch West were among the projects picked up by the newly formed provincial agency Metrolinx for construction. The province also promised to push ahead on Mississauga's transit proposals including LRT lines on Dundas Street and Hurontario, and the bus rapid transit corridor paralleling Highway 403.

Construction Begins At Last

In some ways, construction on the Mississauga Transitway began in the mid 1990s when work began to relocate and upgrade Mississauga Transit's bus terminal at Square One. A new facility at the north side of Square One, off Rathburn Road, opened in 1997, offering a heated waiting area, several bus bays and 210 park 'n' ride spaces. GO Transit moved to serve this station as well, although its buses boarded and disembarked passengers on Station Gate Road, stretching north from the City Centre Transit Terminal.

In 2010, Metrolinx announced $113 million in funding for the project, with $65 million going to the City of Mississaga and $48 million going to GO Transit. This was bolstered by a $59 million contribution by the federal government. With the City of Mississauga committing to pick up the rest of the project's $259 million tab, construction finally began on a portion of the transitway running east from the City Centre Transit Terminal to Dixie Road. On November 29, 2011, Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion stood with the federal Minister of Transport, Lisa Raitt, Bruce McCuaig (president and CEO of Metrolinx) and Bob Delaney (MPP for Mississauga-Streetsville) to officially launch the construction of the western section of the Mississauga Transitway.

Earlier that year, on October 4, Mississauga Transit rebranded itself as MiWay, and launched a new paint scheme that highlighted a number of express routes, some rebranded and some new. Distinctive blue-coloured buses began operating on routes with 100 and 200 series route numbers connecting Mississauga's City Centre to the Toronto subway as well as major centres throughout Mississauga. That the rebranding occurred at roughly the same time as the funding announcement for the transitway was not a coincidence. A number of the MiExpres routes would be revised to serve Mississauga's Transitway when it opened in the spring of 2014.

The Route

The current route of the Mississauga Transitway does not differ much from the line proposed in the 1992 Mississauga Transitway Environment Assessment Report. In 1992, the it was proposed that the route should stretch from the Ninth Line to Renforth Drive where buses would cross over into Toronto and drop passengers off at the most westerly station of the Eglinton West subway. Starting at Ninth Line, the transitway would follow the north side of Highway 403 until Mavis Road, where it would cross the highway and dive underground beneath Duke of York Boulevard and Rathburn Road to an underground station at Mississauga's City Centre. Continuing in a tunnel past Hurontario, the route would emerge and follow the south side of Highway 403 to Cawthra Road where it would then continue east along the north side of East Gate Parkway then north to the north side of Eglinton Avenue West and finally to the Toronto/Mississauga border.

The Mississauga Transitway now under construction saves money by staying at-grade for all of its length and using shoulder lanes to bypass congestion on Highway 403 between Erin Mills and Mavis Avenue. Dedicated lanes along Rathburn Road would serve the City Centre Transit Terminal. Once finished, the Mississauga Transitway would start from a station complex at Winston Churchill (instead of Ninth Line) and follow a bus only roadway to a stop at Erin Mills. After switching onto Highway 403 and serving Mississauga's City Centre, it would move onto a bus-only road on the south-side of Highway 403 from Hurontario to Cawthra. This roadway would then follow Eastgate Parkway to Eglinton Avenue and follow Eglinton to a terminal west of Renforth Drive in Toronto.

When proposed in 2010, the Renforth station would have provided a connection with the Eglinton LRT that was also proposed under MoveOntario 2020 proposal. However, provincial funding cuts announced around the time delayed the planned extension of the Eglinton LRT to Renforth, so no connection is expected until years after 2020, and proposals now call for a bus-only road to extend from Renforth station to a new regional bus terminal at the TTC's Kipling subway station. Although a station at Kipling is expected to open in 2017, buses will at first likely operate from it to Renforth via Highway 427, in mixed traffic. Bus only on-ramps have been built onto the 427 at Eglinton and Dundas to help ease the buses onto the highway, once transitway service begins in the spring of 2014.

The Stations

The current plan for the Mississauga Transitway calls for 13 stations (compared to 16 proposed in the 1992 plan). From east to west, they would be as follows:

  • Winston Churchill - Opened to GO December 31, 2016; opened to MiWay January 2, 2017 - 335 parking spaces
  • Erin Mills - Opened to GO September 7, 2015; opening to MiWay in September 2016 - 335 parking spaces
  • City Centre - Opened 1997 - 210 parking spaces - Connection with Brampton Zum and eventual Hurontario LRT
  • Central Parkway - Opened November 17, 2014 - no parking
  • Cawthra - Opened November 17, 2014 - 60 parking spaces
  • Tomken - Opened November 17, 2014 - no parking
  • Dixie - Opened November 17, 2014 - 170 parking spaces
  • Tahoe (originally named Fieldgate) - Opened February 16, 2016 - no parking
  • Etobicoke Creek (originally Fieldgate North) - Opened February 16, 2016 - no parking
  • Spectrum - Opened May 1, 2017 - no parking
  • Orbitor - Opened May 1, 2017 - no parking
  • Renforth - Opened November 22, 2017 - no parking - Connection with eventual Eglinton LRT
  • Kipling - Opening Later - parking shared with TTC - Connection with Toronto subway

The stations are all wheelchair accessible. There are pedestrian walkways connecting the platforms and heated shelters. Kiss 'n' ride facilities are available at Winston Churchill, Erin Mills, Central Parkway, Cawthra, Tomken and Dixie stations.

Construction of the Transitway has been shared between the City of Mississauga and GO Transit. The eastern segment, which was to open in October 2013, but was delayed to spring 2014, and then again to fall 2014, was built by Mississauga. The western segment was built by GO Transit. The Transitway will see use by GO buses coming in from Hamilton, Oakville, Milton and Waterloo, currently serving the City Centre, and carrying on east to North York and Richmond Hill. GO buses stop at Winston Churchill, Erin Mills, City Centre, Dixie and Renforth Gateway stations, where passengers can connect with local transit services.

Opening at Last

On Monday, November 10, 2014, dignitaries, including Bramalea-Gore-Malton MP Bal Gosal, the Ontario Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca, Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion as well as members of Mississauga city council and Bruce McCuaig, president and CEO of Metrolinx, gathered at Dixie station at 10:45 a.m. for the official opening ceremonies. The transit way itself would not open to the public until Monday, November 17, but MiWay held an open house on Saturday, November 15, with bus tours and plenty of MiWay employees to inform the public. At long last, the Mississauga Transitway was a reality.

As with the Ottawa Transitway, service along Mississauga's Transitway was provided by a mixture of express and local routes, all travelling at 80 km/h on the bus only roadway. The MiWay express routes 107 Malton (operating from Mississauga City Centre to Westwood Mall and Humber College) and 109 Meadowvale (operating from Meadowvale Town Centre to Islington subway station via the City Centre Transit Terminal) were rerouted onto the transitway, along with local route 21 Explorer (operating from the City Centre terminal to the Airport Business District and eventually the Renforth transit hub). Together, these three routes provide five minute or better service during rush hours, and frequent service throughout the day from Monday to Saturday. Other routes use the expressway for part of their runs, stopping at some, but not all, of the stations.

As the transitway expands, other routes will be realigned. Route 110 University, operating from City Centre to University of Toronto-Mississauga and Clarkson GO station joined the Transitway once the western section opened. Sunday service arrived on January 8, 2017, with the expansion of the 109 MEADOWVALE EXPRESS route. On Monday, October 29, 2018, service began on route 100 AIRPORT EXPRESS, serving all the stations on the Transitway, and then travelling north to serve the terminals at Pearson Airport. Other express services will eventually connect western Mississauga with the Toronto subway. Finally, after being delayed from an initial opening of early September 2017, Renforth Gateway station opened to the public on Wednesday, November 22, 2017, offering connections between GO Transit, MiWay and the TTC, as well as a future connection to the Eglinton LRT.

The Future

Now that the transitway is completed, the next phase of the Mississauga Transitway could be to extend the line west to Ridgeway Drive, where a new station will be built. Also, dedicated transit lanes between Confederation and Erin Mills will be replaced by a grade-separated right-of-way, with a new station being built at Creditview and a possible connection with the Milton GO Train at Erindale. When Mississauga's Hurontario LRT is built, the City Centre station will be reconfigured, with the platforms along Rathburn Road shared with the LRT. Space has also been protected for a possible future station along Centre View Drive.

Other possible extensions include upgrading the planned 427 operation from mixed traffic to a dedicated busway from Renforth and Kipling, and it is possible that the transitway may become a component of a larger regional service, with transitway extensions following Highway 403 and 407 into Oakville and Burlington. It may also come to pass that the transitway will be extended east, via Highway 401 and hydro corridors, across the north end of Toronto and through York Region and into Pickering. If this comes to pass, the Transitway will be a major regional installation, providing GO Transit buses quick access across the Greater Toronto Area, bypassing congestion on all major highways.

Mississauga's Transitway has been a long time in coming, partly due to bad luck, and partly due to a city that has only recently become very serious about urban intensification and public transit use. The original planners who proposed the transitway in 1970 may have been visionaries, but in many ways their vision was obscured by a lack of political will that prevented a very pragmatic proposal from becoming a reality. Still, on November 17, 2014, Mississauga could finally claim that the future had arrived.

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