By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
It was not the warmest welcome for representatives of Metrolinx in regional council chambers.
Peter Zuk, the new chief capital officer for the company, faced occasional wrath from some councillors while providing an update on GO Transit expansion plans at a recent committee of the whole meeting.
Oshawa Mayor John Henry said Metrolinx needs to improve its communication regarding the expansion, noting while the public is well aware of the project, many residents think GO service is arriving in the east end of Durham Region sooner than later.
“People may think I’m going to buy a home in Oshawa, Whitby or Clarington because I get on the train and go to work,” Henry said. “But if you live in Clarington, you have to drive to the GO Station in Oshawa and if you’re not there by 6:30 a.m., you are not getting on the train.”
According to Metrolinx data released in 2014, Durham Region residents face an average commute of 82 minutes per day, one of the highest in North America, something Henry challenged Ruk to truly understand.
“The residents of Ontario deserve better…we had a great transit system at one point,” he said.
“Could Metrolinx actually put out a statement on the development of rail to Bowmanville?” he asked.
Ruk said he was committed to being more open with the public.
“After this meeting, I’m thinking about what we can do further to be a partner,” he said. “We want to be a partner with what we are delivering here and I think we can do a better job.”
The project will include expansion of the Lakeshore East line to Bowmanville and the construction of four new stations, including two in Oshawa.
New services are expected to begin by 2024, with Ruk estimating that “shovels will be in the ground” by October of 2019.
Metrolinx and the provincial government have been scarce with cost estimates of the project, first announced in June of 2016.
At that time, when asked by The Oshawa Express as to the cost of the extension, Bob Nichols, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation, said the final number had not been calculated, but that the funds would be part of the province’s pledge to spend $160 billion on infrastructure projects over the next 12 years.
To see this plan come to fruition, Metrolinx will need to build a rail bridge over Highway 401 to link into the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP Rail) track system.
Andre Lalonde, director of rail corridors and infrastructure for Metrolinx says because the company doesn’t own this section of track it will not be included in a $31 billion electrification project, information that regional chair Roger Anderson was clearly unpleased with.
“Let me be clear… it better be electric,” Anderson said. “Are you hearing this message? If you are going to put that hole in the ground to cross over the 401… it better be electric.”
“It’s pretty simple,” he continued. “Get your friends in Ottawa to expropriate the land and take the track. It’s not rocket science…it makes no sense that you’d extend service from Toronto to Bowmanville without electrifying [the track].
However, the chair’s stern words were not the last that Ruk and his associates would hear.
Following up on Henry’s statements about parking, Oshawa councillor John Aker said there is an “insatiable need” for it at the Oshawa GO Station.
“Even if [residents] want to take the GO, realistically [the parking lot] is full by 6:30 or 6:45 a.m.,” Aker said.
Aker said parking facilities for the new stations in Oshawa, projected to contain approximately 2,800 spaces combined, could be described as “limited or adequate”.
“Parking spots are that valuable. You can build a bunch of things, but if you don’t have parking, people aren’t going to use it.”
Councillor Amy McQuaid-England says she would rather see investment into more bus routes to bring commuters to the GO Station.
“What kind of commitments can you give us that you will be adding the extra buses needed to get people where they need to go.”
Erin Moroz, director of community relations and communications says when considering long-term plans Metrolinx cannot simply rely on parking spots as a “sustainable planning tool” to draw people to the stations.
“It’s not going to be a reality everywhere. I think people will realize that parking isn’t the solution to meet that need.”
With recent growth, Ajax Mayor Steve Parish queried about the possibility of “a third station to serve the population of Whitby and Ajax”. Ruk said at this time, there are no plans for such a station.
Parish then asked for it be considered, noting that looking at the timelines for the Bowmanville project, it will be “way past due” when “it’s really desperately needed.”
With more than 150 station proposals brought forward to Metrolinx by municipalities during a recent round of consultations, Moroz says the company will continue these discussions to determine the most suitable locations for potential new builds.
As a provincial government is on the horizon for 2018, Clarington Willie Woo voiced his concerns that the project could be affected by a potential change of government.
While Metrolinx is committed to its expansion into Bowmanville, Moroz says “strong support from communities is the key to projects continuing to move forward.”
“Beyond that, we can’t give any absolutes because we are not the ultimate decision makers.”