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GTAA moves ahead with Pearson transit hub

Don Wall
GTAA moves ahead with Pearson transit hub
Pictured is the proposed concept for a regional transit centre at Toronto Pearson International Airport unveiled on Feb. 7. -

The vision has been created and the commitment to building a regional transit centre at Toronto’s Pearson airport is firmly in place.

Now comes the heavy lifting required to make sure the hub maximizes its potential, said the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) director of airport planning Eileen Waechter.

She said the proposed transit centre, to be located on 68 hectares of GTAA land across Airport Road from Terminals 1 and 3, could potentially connect such existing and future transit lines and systems as the TTC, Brampton and Mississauga public transit, the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, Mississauga Bus Rapid Transit, the Finch West LRT, GO Regional Express Rail from Kitchener, the UP Express and even the Province of Ontario’s High-Speed Rail concept.

Asked what aspects of the plan are set in stone at this point, Waechter commented, "Our CEO has committed to establishing a regional transit centre at Pearson, so that will happen. Will all of the connections happen? Certainly they won’t all happen at once. Is there more work to be done to make sure we understand when and how it will happen? Absolutely. But the first phase of a regional transit centre will happen on or about 2027."

The GTAA has already presented the business and social cases for the transit centre at a couple of public events, with GTAA president and CEO Howard Eng noting in February, "By the time New York and Chicago were the size that Toronto is today, they each had at least two major transportation hubs. Now is the time to ensure that better transit options are in place; otherwise we risk squandering the significant opportunities that are part and parcel of the exciting growth that the airport, the city and the region are experiencing."

The GTAA would serve as the developer of the project, which in its second phase, could include mixed-use commercial space with office, retail, hotel and other uses.

The region around Toronto Pearson is the second largest employment zone in Canada after downtown Toronto, with more than 300,000 people working in what is termed the Airport Employment Zone. The area generates more than one-million car trips daily, but with inefficient public transit, less than 10 per cent of travellers use public transit.

In April, provincial Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, Toronto Mayor John Tory, Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey and Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic visited Viscount Station, which overlooks the proposed development site of the transit centre, to show support for the strategic plan.

"At this point we have not resolved all of the details including some specific alignments," said Waechter. "That is some heavy lifting that is going to start at the end of this year and into all of 2018.

"We want to prepare for a future that would help us achieve our transit mode share goals."

Waechter noted discussions of high-speed rail from Windsor to Toronto through Kitchener are still in the early stages but said it is a no-brainer that the line should be integrated into the northern arc airport network.

"If anyone is seriously considering putting in high speed service in the province, there is no way you should contemplate that without a connection to the airport," she said.

The next step for the transit centre will be the imminent release of an RFP for design, engineering and support services. That will help sort out planning questions and concept development, Waechter said. Those consultants will be on board this year.

"The direction to that team is going to be, make sure you accommodate these future connections," said Waechter.

The first phase will also integrate terminal processing capacity, she said.

The GTAA executive said the first priority of getting the transit centre in place will enable economic expansion for the airport operator itself and also achieve broader economic, environmental and social goals. Ontario will then able to take its place as a global hub, with a boost to the nation’s economy.

"What we are talking about is the vision for how Toronto Pearson can continue to enable economic growth, it can also continue to play a huge role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and can also help with social objects by connecting people to jobs in an easier way," she said.

"We can get passengers and people moving to jobs and moving to the airport and moving around the airport within the Airport Employment Zone along the northern arc, we can help with all of that, but that also frees up road capacity for goods movement. That is particularly important for the Region of Peel."

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