$500 million rapid bus line to run through Pickering, Ajax, Whitby, Oshawa

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An ambitious rapid bus line to be carved through the heart of Durham Region is on its way to Regional Council, though there will be plenty more political debate and many more public consultations before any shovel hits the ground.

Metrolinx, the Ontario government-owned agency responsible for transit projects in the Golden Horseshoe, has provided Durham with its preferred option for the 36-kilometre Durham Scarborough Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) that will transport riders on dedicated bus lanes from the Scarborough Town Centre to Simcoe Street in Oshawa.

The capital cost for the project is expected to be about $500 million, with additional costs when the line is extended past Simcoe - likely east to Ritson Road and then south to the proposed new Go Station at First Avenue.

The project will be funded with a 40 per cent (Ottawa), 33 per cent (Queen’s Park), 27 per cent (Durham) model. Just $200 million has been committed so far.

The project is still in its design phase, with construction not expected for the “pinch points” in the downtowns of the four affected municipalities for five to seven years, though Metrolinx hopes to have tenders out for preliminary work next month.

Construction should get underway sometime next year for three sections of the project, provided all necessary approvals are met: Altona Road to Notion Road in Pickering; Westney Road to Alexander Crossing in Ajax; and Lake Ridge Road to Des Newman Boulevard in Whitby.

When fully completed, the BRT is expected to save 9.5 minutes saved per trip per rider and lead to safer roads, and “162 kilotonnes of CO2 reduction,” among other benefits, prompting Oshawa Councillor Brian Nicholson to question the financial viability of the project at Durham’s Committee of the Whole meeting last week.

“What’s the benefit to us in real dollars, besides airy-fairy stuff like climate change,” he said. “You’re asking us to spend all this money to save ten minutes of bus time.”

He was answered by Ramesh Jagannathan the Director, Transportation and Field Services for Metrolinx, who said the times savings will be “more like 20, and for millions of riders,” and pointed out the expected real dollar savings of the project is $686 million, meaning every dollar spent returns $1.29 worth of benefits.

Sticking points with municipalities as the public process moves along include the widening of Highway 2 (which could impact heritage buildings), the loss of on-street parking and the potential for the re-routing of vehicle traffic in certain pinch points.

The project will see buses run through the centre of Highway 2 with medians built to accommodate transit, and two lanes of traffic on either side, with pinch points in various downtowns reducing the number of lanes to single lanes at times.

The exception will be Oshawa, which has one-way streets so the buses will run curbside.

Metrolinx will be meeting with all four municipalities in the coming months to discuss some of the issues already raised and once the plan is endorsed by Regional Council, the Transit Project Assessment Process will formally begin in July 2021, with an expected completion date of January 2022.

Public consultations will continue throughout the assessment process.

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