‘No pool of money’ exists to compensate Eglinton businesses amid LRT construction: Metrolinx

Metrolinx says it has no fund to compensate shop owners for lost business due to construction of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT.

“We don’t have it,” says Anne Marie Aikins, spokesperson for Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency. 

“There’s no pool of money where people can say, ‘I lost this much business. Can you compensate me?’ We don’t compensate for lost business.”

In a statement to CBC Toronto, Aikins said Metrolinx acknowledges that the construction has had an impact on pedestrians, drivers, transit riders and cyclists, as well as nearby neighbourhoods and local businesses.

“The nature of the concerns businesses have brought forward generally relate to limited or reduced parking, traffic congestion and business access — concerns that existed prior to the construction of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT project — but concerns that have been exacerbated now that construction is underway.”

Aikins added that Metrolinx has worked with the city, councillors, local residents and business improvement associations (BIAs) to ease the impact of construction.

It has also provided information on construction activities, maintained two community offices that act as resources, and helped to develop a program called “Experience Eglinton” to support businesses during construction. The campaign includes advertising and signage.

Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins says: ‘You cannot build massive projects through urbanized areas without causing pain.’ (Angelina King/CBC)

Two councillors, Mike Colle and Josh Matlow, are asking the Ontario government through Metrolinx to provide compensation to local businesses who have lost money because of the LRT construction. Their request came on Tuesday, the same day that Metrolinx President Phil Verster announced that the Eglinton Crosstown would not be completed on time. 

Crosslinx Transit Solutions (CTS) is the consortium building the LRT. The contract to design, build, finance and maintain the project is valued at $9.1 billion, according to the Ontario transportation ministry.

“It is expected that the LRT will open well into 2022,” Verster said.

“Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario are not making any precise predictions of the project completion date at this point, simply because CTS must prove to us that they can achieve the new production rates they say they can achieve. It is important to note that the project remains within budget.”

Last October, Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney said the Eglinton Crosstown was “in the homestretch.” In early January, the Ontario transportation ministry said it expected that the LRT would be “substantially completed” by September 2021. But last Tuesday, Verster admitted that the project is behind schedule.

“We are delayed,” Aikins added.

City councillors Mike Colle, left, and Josh Matlow, right, are asking the Ontario government through Metrolinx to provide compensation to local businesses who have lost money because of the LRT construction. (CBC)

Colle and Matlow are also asking for an immediate cleanup of all construction sites on the sidewalks and road allowances on Eglinton Avenue West and for Metrolinx to consider the feasibility of opening parts of the line before the entire project is finished.

In the statement, Aikins said: “Sites are cleared as soon as possible, and over the next year, the amount of construction residents see on their streets will be minimized as work goes underground. There’s already been a great deal of progress at most stations and impacts have already been minimized as much as possible.”

Aikins said Mount Dennis, Keelesdale and Caledonia underground stations will be completed this year, and Crosslinx is responsible for restoring roadways and sidewalks within station areas to their original state.

She added the provincial transit agency had always planned to open the LRT when all construction is completed. 

Aikins acknowledged that construction has been frustrating for shop owners along the route. “You cannot build massive projects through urbanized areas without causing pain,” she said.

Last October, Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney said the Eglinton Crosstown was “in the homestretch.” In early January, the Ontario transportation ministry said it expected that the LRT would be “substantially completed” by September 2021. But last week, Metrolinx CEO Verster admitted that the project is behind schedule and won’t open until well into 2022. (CBC)

Toronto Mayor John Tory has pointed out that local businesses along Eglinton Avenue need support. He wrote a letter to Mulroney last December saying “we need to be better prepared to assist the businesses and communities impacted by transit construction.”

Such arrangements need to be in place from the start of projects, he said.

“Since work began several years ago, many local businesses along Eglinton Avenue have seen a decrease in pedestrian traffic and a significant drop in revenue,” he wrote.

Tory said the city “stepped up efforts to help these businesses” through parking discounts, demographic research to help businesses attract customers and a support grant given to the Eglinton Crosstown BIA to help BIAS along Eglinton Avenue, among other things.

“Throughout the process, Metrolinx has also provided some support to businesses along Eglinton, although I believe greater support by both levels of government must be in place for projects that are implemented in the future.”

Aikins said “everything is under consideration” for future projects.

The Eglinton Crosstown includes 25 stops along Eglinton Avenue from Kennedy in the east to Mount Dennis in the west. The 19 kilometre route will include a 10 kilometre underground portion between Keele Street and Laird Drive.

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