Councillor Lily Cheng, who represents Ward 18 Willowdale, is spearheading an initiative to secure essential public transit infrastructure for a rapidly growing Willowdale community. Cheng is urging the Province of Ontario to allocate full funding for the construction of Cummer Station, an integral component of the Yonge North Subway Extension (YNSE) Project.
The descoping of Cummer Station (it is now listed as “potential”) from the YNSE Project has raised significant concerns regarding transportation accessibility in the Willowdale area. The station is estimated to cost between $445 million and $470 million, presenting a substantial financial hurdle for the City of Toronto. Councillor Cheng, along with community supporters and residents, is advocating for provincial commitment to reincorporate Cummer Station into the YNSE. This extensive initiative aims to connect Finch Station to Richmond Hill, benefiting a wide range of commuters.
Last week, city council approved a motion to push the province further on Cummer Station, and to prepare a business case to demonstrate why it is important.
“I think like we’re committing to amplifying this need,” Cheng said. “I think this motion is like asking for the city to have a more formalised response. I think we’ve been more reactive and not as proactive. So taking all the threads of research and communications that have been put towards the province and creating a strong business case. And our mayor is committed to taking that case and presenting it to our Premier.”
As Cheng explained, Yonge Street north of Shepherd is experiencing a huge spike in development especially at nodes such as Finch, Cummer and Steeles. But only Cummer is lacking a subway station currently or planned to be part of the expansion of the Yonge subway line.
Cummer Station was originally included in the extension plan, but its construction now faces uncertainty as Metrolinx explores funding options. Councillor Lily Cheng is calling for full provincial funding to support the extension.
Strategically situated between Steeles and Finch stations, Cummer Station would serve as a critical transportation node in the region. The station’s exclusion has far-reaching implications, particularly considering the Ontario Land Tribunal’s approval of high-rise developments contingent on the station’s inclusion. Within a convenient 0.8 km radius of Yonge and Cummer, over 10,400 future residents and 5,000 current residents are eagerly anticipating improved public transit access.
Cheng is intent on pushing the province as long as it takes.
“It’s really about money, right?” Cheng explained. “So I don’t think anything is ever beyond the point of no return until it’s all built because the boring machines are going to go down at Yonge and Cummer because it’s being extended from Yonge and Finch all the way up north. So they’re going to be there, but the further out we are in terms of the procurement and design process, the more expensive it would be to kind of try to stick it back in.”
Cheng compared it to the North York Centre subway station, which wasn’t originally part of the subway line along Yonge, but was roughed in as part of that construction and added later when the need increased.
“As the density grew, the city added the station and now with all the density that is here, we have 170 high rises in Willowdale, I can’t imagine not having North York Centre. It would make it very hard for people who are just in the very middle between the two stations to get to transit easily. We want it to be super convenient for people to just hop on and get to their next destination and hopefully that also strengthens local vibrancy and businesses.”
Cheng emphasised the pivotal role Cummer Station would play in accommodating the increasing number of residents and developments in the area. These developments are projected to bring 5,525 new residential units and a range of non-residential uses, with potential for further growth contingent on the station’s construction, as per a city report.
The outcome of this appeal will undoubtedly have a profound impact on the future of public transit in Willowdale, as well as on the quality of life for thousands of residents in the region.
As of the end of last week, Cheng’s efforts might be paying dividends, she explained.
“Yesterday, at some point, CBC reached out to the Minister of Transportation, and their response was that they’re in conversations and considering it. We’ve never heard that from them,” she said. “It’s really significant that they are exploring the possibility. In the past, we’ve heard more that it’s not possible. So that’s the best news we’ve ever heard coming from our provincial government.”