Brampton Infrastructure Transit

Brampton LRT: a second chance to get it right

Brampton City Council will once again consider extending the Hurontario LRT north into downtown. Will they hold out for a tunnel? Or succeed in getting it built?

A mock-up of a Bombardier Flexity tram sits in Gage Park while a Brampton Züm bus passes by in 2013

On Wednesday, May 10, Brampton’s Committee of Council will consider a staff report on the proposed extension of the Hurontario LRT north from Steeles Avenue to Downtown Brampton.

This section of the LRT, planned last decade, was narrowly rejected by Brampton City Council in a 6-5 vote, with then-mayor Linda Jeffrey supporting the transit line’s construction. Unfortunately, six city councillors sided with several downtown merchants and affluent Main Street South residents (including former premier Bill Davis), who did not support a surface tram on Main Street, back in October 2015.

Councillors who voted to reject the Main Street alignment later backed the study of slower, more indirect alternative routes, while voting to ask Metrolinx and the provincial government, which was planning the line, to terminate the LRT on the south side of Steeles Avenue to allow for their potential fantasy options. Unfortunately, Metrolinx obligated.

In 2019, a newly elected council, led by a new mayor, Patrick Brown, was willing to revisit the LRT decision, again backing a direct Main Street alignment. City staff were directed to update the original, approved 2014 Transit Project Assessment Process (TPAP). In 2021, staff narrowed the alternatives to just two options: an all-surface alignment from Steeles Avenue to the GO station in Downtown Brampton, and an underground option between Nanwood Avenue and the rail corridor. Meanwhile, Brampton staff and elected officials tried, without success, to restore the north-side LRT terminal at Steeles Avenue/Gateway Terminal.

Now that the 30% design work for the two options is complete, city officials must decide how to proceed, especially if they expect senior levels of government to cover the costs of this major transit project.

The alignments

The all-surface alignment three stops in each direction between the Gateway Terminal at Steeles Avenue and the Brampton GO Station: at Charolais Boulevard, Nanwood Drive, and split northbound and southbound stops between Wellington and Queen Streets. These stop locations match the existing 502 Züm Main stops on this section of Main Street.

Between Nanwood Drive and Wellington Street, the LRT would operate in dedicated lanes, with general traffic in the outer two lanes. There would not be room for bicycle lanes, and left turns would be prohibited at non-signalized intersections. North of Wellington, the LRT would run in mixed traffic, with cycle tracks and widened sidewalks on both sides of the street.

The preferred surface alignment

The northern terminus would be on the GO Station property, on the west side of Main Street, in a below-grade trench. Stairs and elevators would connect the platform with the GO Station, while the historic 1907 station building would be moved to support GO train service expansion on the busy CN freight corridor. The street surface would need to be lowered by one metre for the light rail vehicles and the overhead wire to clear the railway underpass.

Alignment of off-street surface LRT alignment on the GO Station property
Design concept for the GO and LRT terminal

The tunnel alignment – which was not part of the approved 2014 TPAP – includes the same surface stops at Brampton Gateway Terminal and Charolais Boulevard, and two underground stations, at Nanwood Drive and the terminal, just south of the GO Station. Between Elgin and Nanwood, the tunnel would be dug in the traditional cut-and-cover method while the portion under Etobicoke Creek and the downtown core would be constructed using the sequential excavation method.

The tunnel portal would be located at Elgin Drive, several hundred metres south of Nanwood. The longer tunnel section is required to avoid the Etobicoke Creek floodplains. Though Nanwood Drive has no intersecting transit routes and relatively low density, the rundown Brampton Mall property would be an ideal urban development site, as would the commercial properties immediately to the south.

The preferred tunnel alignment

The downtown terminal station would include a primary access at the corner of Main and Nelson Streets, to provide access to the GO Station and the proposed new transportation hub, as well as a secondary entrance closer to Queen Street and Garden Square.

The two options were compared, putting the tunnel alignment ahead in all categories apart from cost and schedule. The tunnel would allow for continuous cycling infrastructure on Main Street, minimize traffic impacts, while having slightly higher ridership and somewhat faster transit. The tunnel would also better satisfy homeowners and businesses along the corridor. Staff also note that the tunnel alignment, without the bend into the GO station property, would be easier to extend farther north.

As with other transit projects, the costs of delaying this segment of the LRT are subject to inflation. The surface alignment would cost $933 million, while the tunnel route would cost $2.8 billion. The surface option would take one to two fewer years to complete, an important consideration given Brampton’s fast-growing transit ridership and delays on other complex LRT projects, such as the Eglinton-Crosstown line.

Cost comparisons for the tunnel and surface alignments

The Pitch

Towards the end of the staff report is a section called “Funding Advocacy.” Staff rightfully point out the need for the LRT extension, given the city’s and the province’s goals of directing high density development to the downtown core and other transit station areas, as well as the city’s record of continuous ridership growth and transit improvements.

They also point out that the funding that Brampton is seeking (for the Queen Street BRT project and the LRT, specifically the tunnel option) is comparable to other transit projects in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. The table below compares the costs and funding sought for Brampton’s proposed projects to those funded and underway in Toronto and Hamilton.

Table comparing costs, funding and system ridership for Toronto, Hamilton, and Brampton

An appendix to the staff report compares the cost of the tunnel option with other tunnelled Ontario projects (the Scarborough Subway Extension, the Ontario Line, the Eglinton-Crosstown), and the surface alignment with other surface projects (Finch West LRT, Hamilton LRT, Ion LRT extension in Cambridge).

Concluding thoughts

It is still a shame that Brampton City Council put the interests of a small, but affluent, minority of voters first back in 2015-2016. Had they not prevailed, the LRT into Downtown Brampton would have been under construction right now – at the same time that critical water infrastructure is being replaced in Downtown Brampton, and we would be looking forward to it being open in just two years. However, just three of the eleven council members that voted on the LRT in 2015-2016 remain at Brampton City Hall, and two of those three councillors supported the original project.

The arguments in favour of the tunnel are enticing: a faster transit ride though a congested part of the city, an appeal to provincial and federal governments that have historically short-changed Brampton on its infrastructure needs, in a city that will have six seats up for grabs in the next elections.

However, a surface LRT will be quicker and much cheaper to build. I also do not see the need for further extensions northward, at least via Main Street, and even then, it would require a second tunnel portal somewhere near Vodden Street, adding at least $1 billion to future costs. The GO station terminal points towards the abandoned Orangeville-Brampton Railway, which could provide a good alignment northward from Downtown Brampton, even with a parallel cycling path.

More than anything, I want to see the Hurontario-Main LRT completed to Downtown Brampton as soon as possible, especially as work progresses on all-day hourly train service between Toronto and Kitchener and revitalization and intensification of Downtown Brampton accelerates.

The provincial government has signaled that they prefer the surface alignment for cost reasons (notwithstanding it spending billions of dollars on an unnecessary tunnel on Eglinton West in Etobicoke), as does the Brampton Board of Trade. It is also worth noting that this study is only at the 30% design phase, detailed engineering work may find further costs.

The surface option was the right choice in 2015, and it remains the right choice today. This time, maybe, Brampton will get it right.

2 replies on “Brampton LRT: a second chance to get it right”

There’s great similarity of “it could be under construction by now” to Scarborough, albeit Brampton’s dithering is of much less consequence than Scarborough, even if the situations aren’t linear comparisons.

Mention of the OBR is exactly what I was thinking for a northern extension. It lends itself exquisitely to being LRT, and at a very low cost in relative terms.

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