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The decade-long saga of Durham’s GO expansion

This map shows the expansion as envisioned in the Liberal plan announced in 2016.

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

In September 2008, rock band Guns N’ Roses released “Chinese Democracy.”

The album, the band’s first original material since 1991, had taken more than a decade to complete.

Work began on the album in 1997 and the 11-year-saga included numerous stops and starts, line up changes, and years worth of material being scrapped at the snap of a finger.

In some round, the term “Chinese Democracy” has become synonymous with a highly-anticipated or hyped project that faces multiple delays or goes through multiple incarnations before completion.

A few weeks ago, some attendees of a town hall meeting, hosted by Ontario’s transit authority Metrolinx, were surprised to learn there were now four options on the table in regards to the possible expansion of GO Transit rail service eastward in Oshawa and into Clarington.

This news represents the latest twist in what could be described as Durham Region’s very own “Chinese Democracy.”

In 2016, the then-Liberal provincial government announced the Lakeshore East line would extend east with two new stations in Oshawa, one in Courtice and one in Bowmanville.

“It’s a great story for Durham,” then-Mayor John Henry told The Oshawa Express.

Over the next few years, anticipation for the project began to swell as bits and pieces of details began coming forward.

During delegations to regional council in 2017 and 2018, the timeline set out by Metrolinx officials pointed to construction beginning in 2019 and rail service up and running by 2023/2024.

However, it was clear that local politicians still had some reservations, as they had heard this all before.

In fact, plans to extend GO Train service into Clarington has been officially in the works for more than a decade, originally announced as part of the previous Liberal government’s “Big Move” Initiative in 2008, a 25-year, $500 billion plan.

Originally plans within the “Big Move” project called for the expansion to be completed years ago.

There have been numerous town hall and public meetings held, groundbreaking events, and media photo ops, but not a single track has been laid for the project as of today.

But that’s not to say there hasn’t been a great deal of work done on the project.

Feasibility studies were completed in 2009, and environmental assessments were approved by the provincial government in 2011.

Here in Oshawa, Metrolinx has been busy eating up lands intended to house potential GO Stations.

The Ontario Malliable Iron Company building was originally proposed to have a GO station as part of the Liberal plan announced in 2016.

In 2011, Metrolinx began to make overtures about acquiring the former Ontario Malleable Iron Company building, also known as the former home of Knob Hill Farms, for future development on the Lakeshore East Line.

Although a deal couldn’t be reached, Metrolinx eventually expropriated the land in 2014.

A Park and Ride near the former Ontario Malliable Iron Company building was unveiled last spring.

A Park and Ride location were unveiled last April to allow commuters an alternative place to park in order to get to the extremely crowded Bloor Street GO Station.

Originally called the Central Oshawa GO Station, the future of the location is now up in the air, along with the rest of the project.

The Ontario Malleable Iron Company portion of the building has been standing for more than 100 years and has been designated as a heritage building, which under the Ontario Heritage Act, could protect it from demolition.

To the west, another station had been envisioned near the corner of Thornton Road and Consumers Drive near the Whitby-Oshawa border.

As far back as 2008, the province has pegged the location for a possible GO Station location.

For this reason, the City of Oshawa had denied a development application made by Halloway Development for the lands in question.

This decision was eventually appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board, which upheld the city’s decision.

But as mentioned before, it seemed the project finally had a dedicated timeline.

In October 2017, then-Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca, during – surprise, a media photo opportunity – stated the Liberal government was dedicated to getting rail service into Bowmanville.

However, when Doug Ford and his Progressive Conservative Party rolled into power last June, it was announced that all provincial transit projects were up for review – although information was scarce on what this meant for the future of the project.

To the bewilderment of local politicians, such as Henry, Oshawa Mayor Dan Carter, and Oshawa MPP Jennifer French, at the May 2 town hall meeting in Whitby, when Metrolinx officials announced the plan announced in 2016 may not be the plan moving forward.

“Any timeline for any option can only be determined when the option has been selected. There has been no formal option selected yet, we are now considering the four options,” Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster told The Oshawa Express. “I cannot really talk about what timelines people have committed to before, I can only say that we have a very structured process by which we do business cases, take options to government, government makes decisions and we implement them as soon as we can.”

Clarington Mayor Adrian Foster walked away from the meeting feeling like it was a “step backward.”

“When a year ago if you would have asked, there would be shovels in the ground in [2019], because that was the promise,” Foster said.

“Things are not clear for us. We thought we knew exactly what the path was going forward a year ago – we knew where the stops were going to be, we knew what timelines were, promises had been made,” Foster added.

Soon after the meeting, Durham MPP Lindsey Park and current Minister of Transportation Jeff Yurek claimed it was discovered by Metrolinx the Liberal plan announced in 2016 would not be completed by 2024, and would likely cost twice as much as originally budgeted.

It should be noted the cost estimates for the Liberal plan had never officially been released.

But Metrolinx is planning the pull the curtain back and show more of its hands at two community meetings scheduled for this week.

The first was held in Bowmanville prior to the Express’ print deadline this week.

The second is scheduled at Oshawa’s Civic Recreation Complex from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, March 22.

It is expected Metrolinx will map out the four options currently being considered, which includes routes that would run north of Highway 401, close to Oshawa’s downtown core, or south of the highway, through a mostly industrial area of the city.

Whatever information comes to light at these meetings, residents of Durham may begin to feel like fans of Guns’ N’ Roses – they won’t actually believe the project is happening until they have seen it with their own two eyes.