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York Region stands by Yonge North subway extension route despite community outrage

Residents, school board concerned by vibrations from subways running below
Stock photo

York Region is standing behind the Yonge North subway extension despite protests from citizens opposed to the route alignment.

Council voted today, Feb. 3, by a 17-4 vote to ask Metrolinx to consider an enhanced compensation package for property owners impacted by the subway but did not make any resolution opposing the alignment along Bay Thorn Drive, despite residents there worried about vibrations.

Councillors expressed a desire to ensure the project goes ahead in a timely fashion and support the expertise of Metrolinx.

Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua said he wanted to present a united front to upper levels of government.

“At the end of the day, we have to take a stand, and the stand is that we want to build a subway. It’s just as simple as that, and we can only build a subway that we can afford,” he said. “I don’t want to send any kind of mixed signals.” 

The $5.6-billion subway extension will add four new stations extending into Vaughan and Richmond Hill. Construction could begin in 2023 or 2024, but the project has experienced significant pushback from Thornhill residents at the end of the route for several months. They are concerned about the noise and vibration the subway could create and have suggested utilizing a previously explored route farther along Yonge Street.

But Metrolinx officials argued that a proposed route change has significant downsides, including costing at least $230 million more, construction risk with it running under highway bridge supports, and a two-minute longer route for travellers. They said route was drawn under different circumstances and was halted over expected cost overruns. 

They have also argued that the subway technology is such that residents should not experience any noise or vibrations.

“My responsibility as program sponsor is to identify and recommend the best project,” Metrolinx's Stephen Collins said, “not necessarily the project that avoids concerns.”

Metrolinx said they have worked to cut the number of homes the route runs under by nearly half; it now runs under approximately 35 properties, including a condo building with about 350 residents.

But many citizens are not convinced. York Region council heard 18 delegations from residents who argue that the project puts their homes at risk and is not guaranteed to avoid vibration and noise.

Resident Dev Chopra said there would be significant mental health consequences to allowing the project to go forward and it is already impacting people's well-being. 

“Must people die before we can get Metrolinx to pay attention?” Chopra said. “I sincerely hope and pray that this council would not dismiss our concern as simple NIMBYism (not in my back yard).”

York Catholic District School Board is also opposed to the alignment, which runs under St. Anthony Catholic School. They said if the alignment goes ahead, they would like it shifted to not run under the school building but instead the schoolyard, but Metrolinx has indicated that cannot happen.

“Students do not have a choice to attend an alternate location if they are concerned with the presence of a subway tunnel,” planning services head Joachim Tsui told the council. 

Councillors questioned compensation for residents. Newmarket Deputy Mayor Tom Vegh suggested a fund for home sales impacted by the route.

“I’m absolutely convinced of your engineering and your sincerity,” Vegh told Metrolinx. “But I also don’t have a subway going under my house … Quite an emotional issue." 

Metrolinx officials said given properties own the space underground, compensation will be provided to property owners. But they indicated going beyond that could be beyond their mandate.

Vegh and Newmarket Mayor John Taylor both supported the council resolution. Taylor did not comment directly, though said there was a lot of information to parse and that any motions should have been circulated beforehand.

Vaughan Councillor Gino Rosati said residents made strong points, but he did not want to do anything to hurt the project.

“I will not do anything to jeopardize it, either a delay, or worse,” he said.

Chairman and CEO Wayne Emmerson said municipal leaders would push the province to address residents' concerns, but not everything could be. 

“Metrolinx has said all day, this is the alignment going forward,” Emmerson said. “That’s where we’re at.”