Friday, March 9, 2012

Tunnel to island airport confirmed

TORONTO - The construction of a pedestrian link between Toronto’s downtown and the Billy Bishop island airport was announced Friday with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Mayor Rob Ford and other dignitaries gathered in one of the airport’s hangars.

City council approved the building of the fixed link in July, and Ottawa recently gave the green light for regulatory amendments to allow construction to move ahead.

The tunnel, which will cost $82.6 million to build and take just over two years to complete, will be financed by the private sector and partially paid for by airport users through an existing $20 Airport Improvement Fee.

“The construction of the pedestrian tunnel will create jobs in the GTA and help manage passenger flows to and from the airport,” said Harper while standing in front of a dozen airport and construction workers - some wearing hard hats and reflective vests.

The link between downtown Toronto and the island airport has been a long time in coming.

Former mayor David Miller campaigned in 2003’s mayoral race with a platform that included a pledge to scuttle plans for a bridge to the airport. Miller, never a fan of the island airport’s expansion, claimed that a fixed link would cause additional noise and congestion around Toronto’s waterfront.

“Unfortunately, regulatory obstacles had been put in place,” said Harper, adding that “as much as I like ferries ... lining up for one when you’re trying to catch a plane does not make a world-class city.”

Mayor Ford called the tunnel an “amazing gateway to Toronto” that will add vitality to the city, just before taking a veiled shot at Miller’s killing of a fixed link.

“We knew it was going to come, and the people of Toronto knew it was going to come,” said Ford, adding that the tunnel will save the City more than $10 million by including an island watermain and sewage project, as opposed to constructing that separately.

The tunnel — an 800 foot length of underwater walkway which will be located at the foot of Bathurst St. and Eireann Quay — is expected to move more than 1.5 million travellers every year.

The airport’s current main tenant, Porter Airlines, is gradually expanding its stops in both Canada and the U.S.

“This is an announcement today ... that we’ve been looking forward to for some time,” said Porter CEO Robert Deluce. “We’ve always been strong supporters of any improvements to infrastructure that ultimately makes it easier for our passengers.”

Meanwhile, at the foot of Bathurst St. at Queen’s Quay, a small group had gathered to protest the tunnel’s construction.

One of them was MP and former city councilor Olivia Chow (Trinity-Spadina), who said the increased number of flights that a tunnel will bring means a safety hazard to the area’s residents.

“Children and parents in the neighbourhood are saying that their safety must come first,” said Chow, “and to increase the number of flights to the island airport is really not appropriate.”

Preparatory work, including the relocating of city utilities to allow for the tunnel’s water main shafts, is to begin some time this month, according to the Toronto Port Authority.

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