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Jan 24, 2013  |  Vote 0    0

Sheppard Avenue underpass takes toll on St. Timothy’s church

‘Welcome to the St. Clair scramble,’ Scarborough councillor says

Scarborough Mirror

Construction associated with the Sheppard East LRT has had unholy outcomes for an Agincourt church, hiding its century-old building from public view and making it “patently unsafe,” supporters say, for parishioners to turn onto Sheppard Avenue in any direction.

St. Timothy’s Anglican has also seen its parking lot “debilitated” during two years of use by heavy equipment working on a nearby Sheppard Avenue underpass, Rev. John Stephenson told Scarborough Community Council this week.

And there was the moment in May 2011, when a “huge thunderous crack” was heard running east to west in the church’s north wall - damage for which the provincial transit agency Metrolinx supervising the light-rail project says it’s not responsible, despite a precondition survey the church hoped would show otherwise.

“The opinion of Metrolinx was we could never prove construction caused it,” said Stephenson, though after it happened the agency used extra material to protect the wall.

“All we know is in 100 years (previous) nothing happened.”

The wall is still structurally sound, but damaged, Stephenson said later, adding this week the church’s insurance company refused to accept liability for their claim.

What’s most important, he told the councillors, is what the underpass, because of a design flaw, is doing to St. Timothy’s.

The church and its two adjacent halls serve breakfasts and lunches to poor and homeless, house a men’s carpentry club and women’s craft club and host after-school programs and classes for mothers and infants.

But people in cars or on foot are afraid to come to the church, said Stephenson, because it is now so difficult to turn out of Lamont Avenue, St. Timothy’s dead-end street.

It’s enough, he said, to damage the church’s mission in the community unless a solution is found.

City transportation staff asked councillors this week to approve a ban on left-turns from Lamont as well as movements across Sheppard to driveways on its north side.

As part of the GO Rail line grade separation to the west, the Lamont intersection “was designed assuming that only right-out vehicular movements would be allowed,” a report said, though work on the light-rail line isn’t scheduled to resume until 2017.

Stephenson said a “design flaw” in the underpass, a high retaining wall which also serves as a sidewalk, makes it impossible for drivers turning right from Lamont to see approaching eastbound traffic. This was not obvious during construction, he said.

City staff have told drivers to ease into the bus bay before turning, but it’s too short and the sight line problem still exists, said Stephenson, adding pedestrians, mothers with young children included, are wandering between turning cars, increasing the chances for an accident.

Stephenson said church supporters - 641 of which signed a petition expressing concerns - want to see traffic signals at Lamont so vehicles can turn and pedestrians can cross, but TTC and Metrolinx say “it is not their business, it’s a city issue,” and so won’t pay for any signals.

Councillors said they were reluctant to install signals knowing they would have to remove them a fewer years later, when a raised track bed is built on Sheppard.

One, Ron Moeser, said it would be interesting to see if Metrolinx can overrule a City of Toronto decision to install temporary signals, or half-signal lights which only face westward, because they might delay the LRT cars.

Scarborough-Agincourt Councillor Mike Del Grande wondered whether the $30-million underpass would have been built if a Sheppard subway extension - still the preference of many Scarborough councillors had been chosen instead.

Some agreed the church’s difficulties were just a taste of what will happen to certain streets along light-rail routes planned for Sheppard and Eglinton Avenue in Scarborough.

“Welcome to the St. Clair scramble,” Del Grande said.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Others, however, argued the underpass - on which work continued during years in which the Sheppard LRT was shelved - would eventually have been built without the light-rail project.

Though “a mistake has been made” in the construction, it’s too late to change the underpass design now, said Glenn De Baeremaeker, adding there were concerns before the underpass people would endanger themselves by driving over the tracks as a train approached.

Councillors backed a motion by Chin Lee, the local councillor, asking staff to conduct a traffic study on Lamont and Sheppard and “to rectify any hazard introduced by the underpass.”

Lee’s motion also asked Metrolinx to speed reopening of Agincourt Drive, a street almost opposite Lamont, because that is necessary before a study can begin.

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