The long-discussed downtown relief line has a new preferred alignment, one that would see the tunnel travel along Queen Street and Eastern Avenue before turning north at Carlaw Avenue and connecting with Line 2 on Danforth Avenue.

Staff had initially chosen a route that would have run north along Pape Avenue but decided to amend the preferred alignment to instead travel north along Carlaw Avenue and then diagonally along the GO corridor to Danforth Avenue with stations at Queen Street and Carlaw Avenue and Gerrard Street and Carlaw Avenue.

Staff are suggesting the change due, in part, to the fact that Pape Avenue is classified as a low-density residential street south of Gerrard Street East while Carlaw Avenue is a wider, mixed-use street with a number of mid-rise buildings. There is already about 2,500 people living along the proposed Carlaw Avenue route compared to only 1,100 along Pape Avenue route.

“People on Pape (Avenue) couldn’t understand why the subway was being run under a residential street with one and one-and-a-half storey homes compared to a minor arterial street with 10 and 12 storey buildings. It just didn’t make any sense,” Ward 30 Coun. Paula Fletcher told on Wednesday. “From an economic development point of view, from city building point of view and in terms of transit connections, Carlaw just makes more sense.”

Fletcher said that some residents along Pape Avenue initially expressed concerns about vibrations from the subway slowly degrading the foundations of century-old homes in the area but she said that improved technology and the depth of the tunnel at 18 to 25 metres below ground means that won’t be an issue, “no matter where” the subway is run.

She said the change in the preferred alignment was made after she tabled a motion asking staff to study Carlaw Avenue as a possible alternative to Pape Avenue.

The route was not considered as part of the initial study.

“Close to 3,000 people live there and there will be more,” she said of Carlaw Avenue corridor. “Pape has 1,000 people and no big development planned.”

Council to debate alignment in May

Fletcher said the hope is that the project will be “shovel ready” by the end of 2016 and will just need funding in order to be pushed forward.

In making the case for the change, staff say that the presence of the subway would “help strengthen” the Carlaw Avenue and Dundas Street area as a “hub for business.” Staff also say that the planned station at Queen Street and Carlaw Avenue would “invite a high level of activity that would support the emerging higher density, mixed-use” area at Carlaw and Dundas.

The preferred alignment will go to executive committee on May 16 and city council on May 24.

Speaking with reporters at the potential site of a subway station at Queen Street and Carlaw Avenue earlier on Wednesday, Mayor Tory said he believes the new alignment is “more sensible” both in terms of avoiding a “destructive impact” on the surrounding neighbourhood and the potential for growth.

“I think the impact will be less and more sensible to have it go on Carlaw. That is why we have staff look at these sorts of things,” he said.

It should be noted that the Downtown Relief Line remains unfunded, however the Province of Ontario has put $150 million towards the planning and design work for the project.

On Wednesday, Tory called on the province to make a “firm indication” in its upcoming budget that it will help the city cover the estimated $6.8 billion cost of the project.

“We can’t put shovels in the ground until we have the money,” he said. “You might even ask the question why are we even doing the planning and design work that is being done if we don’t know that the other levels of government will help pay for the project.”

Due to the location of the tunnel and other reasons, Tory conceded that the line will be one of the costliest projects the city has undertaken with a budget that “dwarfs” that of other public transit projects.

Nonetheless, he said the line is “necessary” to reduce the crowding on the Yonge subway line. The TTC has previously said that the line will be over capacity within 15 years.

“Anyone who has taken the TTC on the Yonge subway lines knows we are already at capacity sometimes over capacity,” Tory said.