During a raucous public meeting Monday, Jan. 18, Davenport MPP Cristina Martins pledged to lobby the Ontario Minister of the Environment to halt the Davenport Overpass.
Metrolinx wants to build the elevated two-track bridge, which it is now referring to as the Guideway, as a way of replacing the busy Davenport Diamond rail crossing, where GO Transit intersects with C.P freight trains. It says the bridge is needed to double existing Barrie line GO train service. But the project has generated considerable outrage from Davenport residents, who are distrusting of Metrolinx’s motives and want to see the rail crossing replaced with a tunnel instead.
During the meeting organized by Metrolinx to announce the beginning of a six-month assessment process for the project, Martins – who has come under fire for not intervening to stop the bridge and was repeatedly catcalled during the meeting – said she would write her colleague Glen Murray and request the project be put on hold.
“I am prepared to write a letter to the Minister of the Environment to ask him to delay this project as there are too many questions that remain unanswered,” said Martins following confirmation Metrolinx is getting ready to launch a six-month Environmental Assessment required for the project.
Sam Barbieri from pro-tunnel group Options for Davenport, which made a presentation during the meeting that was critical of Martins, said he was reassured by the MPP’s unexpected show of support.
With barely nine days before the Transit Project Assessment Process (TPAP) is set to start (it is scheduled to begin Jan. 28) he said timing is crucial for Martins to intervene now on behalf of her constituents.
“I believe it’s difficult to pause the TPAP, so we’re hoping she writes a letter as soon as possible,” Barbieri said. “We’re in a tight spot.”
He added Options for Davenport will continue petitioning senior government officials including Premier Kathleen Wynne.
Hundreds of residents packed the Davenport Perth Neighbourhood Centre to see Metrolinx’s updated designs for the bridge, which has now been reduced in length, although the project footprint remains the same at 1.4 kilometres from Bloor Street to just south of Davenport Road.
Some questioned why Metrolinx is proceeding with the bridge when Toronto council, on the advice of its city planning staff, voted overwhelmingly to oppose the project. Others questioned the provincial agency’s credibility, particularly due to distrust sown during construction of the Union Pearson (UP) Express air rail link.
Davenport city Councillor Ana Bailão, also in attendance, said even if the bridge is a worthy project, Metrolinx has failed to adequately consult with the community on its plans.
“I keep hearing from Metrolinx they’ve delayed the process because of the city and the community,” Bailão said. “No you didn’t. You missed a step, you did not consult”.
Bailão said many questions remain unanswered, from rail safety to the exact composition of public space improvements planned for underneath the bridge.
“If you’re going to go ahead with this, if you want the community to support, you’re going to have to step it up a lot more,” she said to thunderous applause and loud cheers.
Despite the harsh reception, Metrolinx community relations manager Manuel Pedrosa said it was great to see the public engaged.
“We look forward to continuing the conversation to refine our initial design study to further address the issues and concerns raised by our neighbours,” he said.