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Route 6 - The Finch West LRT


A map of the Finch West LRT route, issued by Metrolinx on April 11, 2019

Text by Ameer Shash

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It’s the sixth segment of our transit system in the ‘6ix’ - the Line 6 Finch West LRT, commonly referred to as the Finch West LRT. The 18-station line was proposed as far back as 2007 and is currently under construction concurrently with the Eglinton Crosstown Line, otherwise known as ‘Line 5’. The Finch West LRT was built to serve the needs of North York and neighbouring Etobicoke. The Finch West LRT notably narrows the barrier to access major points of interest such as York University and other major spots city-wide that are directly connected to Line 6.

Line 1 connects with Finch West LRT’s eastern terminus with its Finch West station. The namesake of Line 6 stations mostly consist of already-existing street names and as such, are located proximal to them. However, a few names for stations that were originally proposed had to be renamed due to conflicts of already-existing stations on the Toronto Transit Commission. As of early 2021, construction has started on the line and its maintenance and operations centre and continues in spite of continued disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finch West LRT’s Rendered Idea

The Finch West LRT will start at Finch West station on the Yonge-University subway. Following a short tunnel at Finch West station, the Finch West LRT will run at-grade alongside vehicular traffic on Finch Avenue West until it reaches Highway 27. From here, trains running on the Line will go below-grade, until it reaches the western terminus at Humber College’s North Campus. Notably, the line will feature an underground interchange station at Finch West (connecting to the Toronto-York-Spadina Subway Extension), and a below-grade terminal at Humber College.

The Finch West LRT was being planned while the Finch West subway station was being built. As a result, the TTC built in a connection to create a smoother interchange between the LRT and the subway, before the rest of the line started construction. At the TTC’s Finch West Station’s south end, a blocked concourse exists with a passageway that is restricted temporarily by a knock-out wall. This will lead to the LRT’s concourse zone. Escalators, stairs and elevators are slated for construction and will lead to the LRT loading platform beneath Finch Avenue.

Approximately 21 bus routes will intersect with the Finch West LRT when it opens, and further plans are underway to enhance connections.

Transformative History of Finch Avenue West

Plans to build rapid transit along or near Finch Avenue West date back to the 1960s. As the Bloor-Danforth subway was being extended to Islington and Warden, North York mayor James Service proposed extending that subway at both ends along Hydro rights-of-way and rail corridors north through Etobicoke and Scarborough, and east and west just north of Finch Avenue. The proposal was dismissed by the TTC and politicians in Metro Toronto.

However, the idea of a northern crosstown rapid transit line gradually took hold. In the early 1980s, the Government of Ontario proposed a network of regional LRT lines called GO-ALRT. In addition to a line along the Lakeshore from Hamilton to Oshawa, the Ministry of Transportation suggested that a line along Hydro corridors through Oakville and Mississauga (along the path of today’s Mississauga Transitway) and north of Finch Avenue could support suburb-to-suburb commuting, bypassing downtown Toronto and competing against car traffic on Highway 401.

Also during the early 1980s, Metropolitan Toronto and the TTC brought forward its Network 2011 plan for rapid transit expansion. This proposal called for subway construction on lines running along or near Sheppard Avenue East and Eglinton Avenue West, and on Pape and Eastern Avenues from the Bloor-Danforth subway to Union Station. The proposal included longer-term plans for further subway extensions, including taking the Sheppard line west from Sheppard West station, curving north to Finch near Keele, and following the hydro corridor north of Finch into northern Etobicoke, and south through Etobicoke to Kipling station. The Network 2011 proposal, while approved, ended up delayed, and only a small portion of its proposed lines have been built, but the need for improved transit on Finch Avenue West was acknowledged and remained.

Finch Avenue is named for John Finch, who established an inn in 1848 at the corner of today’s intersection of Yonge and Finch. At the time, Finch Avenue was a concession road stretching east and west through rural York Township, and the road initially became known as “Finch’s” and stayed that way until the early 20th century. Following the Second World War, Toronto’s urban sprawl spilled out into North York Township, and suburban development started to build around Finch Avenue.

The first TTC buses on Finch Avenue operated as part of branches of the 59 North Yonge service operating along Willowdale Avenue and Senlac Road, starting June 24, 1957. The 11 Bayview bus provided the first through-service on Finch Avenue, extending west from the Bayview-Finch intersection to Bathurst Street on October 7, 1962. The 36 Finch bus was launched on September 3, 1963, as part of a major redesign of the TTC’s suburban network into more of a grid system. As development continued, the Yonge subway was extended north on Yonge and into the Borough of North York on March 31, 1973, and further to Finch Station on March 30, 1974.

Since that day, ridership has steadily increased on the 36 Finch West route, as commercial offices, industries, and suburban developments built up around the corridor, particularly around the Jane-Finch intersection. The rise of York University and Humber College provided two more traffic generators. Night service arrived on February 9, 1987 with the launch of the 309 Finch West Blue Night route. By the year 2000, 38,300 passengers rode the 36 Finch West route on an average weekday, with many other routes crossing Finch Avenue at key intersections, or serving Humber College or York University.

Transit City, Announcements, and Delays

On March 16, 2007, Toronto mayor David Miller, city politicians and the TTC decided to address the slow pace of rapid transit development through the city by proposing a network of light rail lines along the busiest corridors of Toronto’s suburbs. Transit City, as this plan was called, proposed LRT lines on and beneath Eglinton across the city (and north through Scarborough to the Malvern community), east on Sheppard from Don Mills, west on Finch from Yonge Street, and beneath Jane Street and Don Mills Road. The provincial government of the day embraced this plan in its MoveOntario 2020 proposal, and directed its newly-formed regional transit agency Metrolinx to support the lines’ construction. On April 1, 2009, Mayor Miller and Premier Dalton McGuinty announced $7.2 billion in provincial funding to build the Eglinton and Finch West LRT lines. The Finch West LRT line was to open in 2013.

Design work and public consultation followed, with construction on the two lines planned to begin sometime in 2010. However, in March 2010, the provincial government delayed the start of Finch West construction, and cancelled the section between Finch and Finch West station in order to save money. Then, in November 2010, Rob Ford was elected mayor of Toronto and, on December 1, 2010, his first day in office, announced the cancellation of the Transit City plan. Ford called for the Eglinton, Finch West and Sheppard East LRTs to be built as subways entirely underground, a far more expensive project. While the Eglinton LRT as planned was partially underground, and no work had begun on the Finch West LRT due to Metrolinx’s budget cuts, this effectively cancelled the Finch West LRT project.

The political battle over the Transit City proposal would continue until 2012 when Toronto City Council restored the original plan over Mayor Ford’s objections. However, Metrolinx, citing the delays due to the political battle, and budget constraints, further delayed construction of the Finch West LRT, giving it a new opening date of 2022.

To build the line, Metrolinx launched agreements with Enbridge Gas and Infrastructure Ontario to relocate gas mains to prepare the construction of the stations on the route. It sought a contractor to maintain and build the stations. By 2017, a joint venture between Aecon Group, ACS Infrastructure and CRH Canada group, collectively known as Mosaic Group, was established. The three agencies were granted a contract to design, build, finance and maintain the Finch West LRT stations, and were obligated to do so for the next 30 years upon the opening of the line. Delays in construction, as well as Bombardier’s difficulties in delivering its Flexity LRT vehicles on time, forced Metrolinx to change its rolling stock for the Finch West LRT to the Alstom Citadis Spirit. These issues pushed back the opening date of the line into 2023.

The Alstom Citadis Spirit, which was the alternative to Bombardier’s following a delay in delivery, would be the third type of manufacturer within the TTC’s rapid transit fleet. These trains (17 of which will operate on the line), while foreign to riders in Toronto, are familiar to riders of OC Transpo’s light rail system in Ottawa. Construction on these trains began at Alstom’s plant in Brampton, with the first vehicle being assembled in September 2020. As of early 2021, these trains are yet to be tested pending the completion of rail installations along the Finch corridor.

The Maintenance and Storage Facility

Along with its 11 kilometres of route track and its 18 stations, the Finch West LRT is anchored by its maintenance and service facility being built on an empty lot north of Finch Avenue West between Norfinch Drive and York Gate Boulevard. Mosaic Transit Group started construction on the new facility in 2019 with an expected completion date late in 2021. The maintenance will have a green roof, be 10,000-square meters and will have a capacity for 26 light-rail vehicles. The facility features a main shop where maintenance will be carried out, a car wash facility, a power substation, an administration office, and a material storage building. Once complete, light rail vehicles will be able to access the facility from either eastbound or westbound on Finch Avenue.

Logistics and Controversy

Under the initial agreement between Toronto and the province of Ontario, the Finch West LRT will be owned by Metrolinx, though operated by the TTC and officially part of the TTC network. The line will be on a dedicated track, with trains running every 5-7 minutes during peak hours. Thus, Metrolinx has been responsible for the construction and contact with the communities along the line. They have had to face some controversy over the project, particularly within the Jane-Finch community.

In July 2020, Ward 7 Councillor Anthony Perruzza accused Metrolinx of retracting a deal the agency made to donate land for a new community hub in Jane-Finch. Perruzza had contacted Metrolinx and was previously promised that the community would have a parcel of land secured at Finch Avenue West and York Gate Boulevard (near Metrolinx’s planned maintenance and storage facility) to construct a multi-use arts and culture centre. Perruzza also had said that an email he received from Metrolinx had said they would now intend to sell the land at market value. A report from the Toronto Star suggested that Metrolinx intended to sell the land for profit, instead.

Metrolinx’s spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins said Metrolinx “can’t donate or gift [to the community] a provincial asset.” After the local community organized and protested, the provincial government announced, on March 11, 2021, that it would donate the land for the community centre once Metrolinx’s maintenance and storage facility was built. Plans for the 65,000 square-foot hub are now underway and construction can begin after the line opens in 2023.

The Next Steps

Once built, proposals exist to extend the Finch West LRT at both ends. The line was planned to operate all the way to Finch Station before the provincial government cut that stretch in March 2010. The section was identified as a possible future project in Toronto’s Feeling Congested? report of 2013, and shown again in the TTC’s 2018 Corporate Plan, but with no timeline for when it would be built or opened. There was another proposal to extend the LRT further east along Finch to Don Mills and south to Don Mills station, to provide a seamless LRT connection with the Sheppard East LRT. Metrolinx made this proposal in May 2009, and the TTC said that it would commission a planning study in 2010, but this never materialized.

At the west end, initial plans for the Finch West LRT suggested a further extension south and west from Humber College, serving the Woodbine Live casino development, the Woodbine Centre, and connecting with an extension of the Eglinton LRT at Pearson International Airport. This extension was also mentioned in the TTC’s 2013 Feeling Congested? report, and is perhaps the most likely of the Finch West LRT’s extensions to proceed.

In the meantime, as construction continues slowly through the pandemic, Metrolinx expects that the Finch West LRT will bring equitable and functional transit for Toronto riders. Area residents remain hopeful that navigating their city and exploring it further is aided heavily by the transit project.

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