My mistake was to think I could drive along Finch Avenue West as a normal street. It is, as someone remarked, Toronto’s most significant obstacle course.
Metrolinx is responsible for building the Finch West Light rail line, and it has made a mess of it over the past five years. Vast stretches of the roadway are reduced to one lane, with construction debris on all sides, with work on the roadway, the sidewalks and the half-built LRT itself most often uncompleted, just sitting there abandoned. The patches where construction workers are doing things are the exception, not the rule.
Thank goodness I was not a pedestrian. Sidewalks are non-existent. One walks through broken concrete and dust, never in a straight line. Buses have a difficult time negotiating the roadway and then finding a place to collect riders.
Metrolinx has a lot to answer for on Finch West. They don’t seem to care about the many residents who are forced to deal with this continuing disruption.
It would be useless to ask Metrolinx when the street will return to reasonable functionality and when the LRT will be running. As we know from the Crosstown on Eglinton, another Metrolinx project, there’s no real timeline on when work will be done. Phil Verster, the chief executive officer of Metrolinx, had the audacity to hold a press conference at the end of September where he announced he still couldn’t say when the Crosstown will be running — a project already more than three years late and far over budget.
Metrolinx is a provincial agency, and Premier Doug Ford was so impressed with Verster’s announcement on the Crosstown that the very next day he renewed the man’s contract for a further year at the handsome sum of $850,000.
Metrolinx has just begun work on the Ontario line, closing Queen from Bay to Yonge for an estimated five years — surely an underestimate.
South Riverdale will then be disrupted, then the Distillery District and Queen between Sherbourne and Bathurst. The mayhem already affects the whole of the central city with the rerouting of the heavily used Queen streetcar.
One wishes the province would get its nose out of the city and attend to its own issues — such as ensuring that hospitals are well enough funded that sitting in an emergency room is not an all-day affair.
Metrolinx relies on Infrastructure Ontario to arrange construction contracts, which means Public Private Partnerships are hired to perform the needed work. That’s a fancy way of pushing government work off to a consortium of private companies that argue among themselves about who is responsible for delays. A study a few years ago of PPP contracts for hospitals in Ontario showed that the average contract cost was 18 per cent higher than if governments did the work themselves.
We lose in two ways: the work is more expensive, and it never gets done on time. If Metrolinx seems little interested in doing things any differently — why would well-paid Philip Verster want to rock the boat?
Some have argued that Premier Ford simply hates Toronto and is willing to cause as much disruption as he can. The list of his interventions here is long: transit, Ontario Place, the fossil fuel–burning Portland electricity plant being expanded against the express wishes of Toronto City Council, the failure of the new court house because of staff underfunding and on and on.
You could conclude the residents of Finch Avenue West aren’t being discriminated against: they are simply being treated as badly as other Torontonians.
JOHN SEWELL is a former mayor of Toronto.