Will Toronto still need those transit megaprojects after COVID-19?

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A little over a year from now, the TTC hopes to start work on a massive transit project beneath the heart of downtown Toronto.

The expansion of Bloor-Yonge station will cost an estimated $1.5 billion, take seven years to complete and require building a new subway platform, elevators, and escalators at an underground transit hub surrounded by dense commercial real estate, all while regular train service continues to operate.

Before the pandemic, the urgent need to expand Bloor-Yonge was evident to anyone who stood on its Line 1 subway platform on a weekday morning, when crowds of downtown commuters could grow dangerously large.

But during the pandemic, those crowds have thinned dramatically. With downtown office towers largely vacant and employers contemplating a shift to work-from-home, when commuters will return to the transit network and in what volume is anyone’s guess. With so much uncertainty, is it time to rethink expensive transit projects that were planned based on pre-pandemic travel patterns?

The TTC says it has no intention of changing course. Agency spokesperson Stuart Green said it’s critical to follow through with current infrastructure plans to ensure the system is “future-ready” and keeps up with expected population growth. “It is imperative we continue this work,” he said.