Wheels put in motion for VivaNext

Viva drivers may have walked off the job on Thursday morning, but a second public meeting to plan York Region’s transit future remained on the rails.

Over 400 people gathered at the Premier Ballroom and Convention Centre in Richmond Hill at 9019 Leslie St. for an interactive presentation on the Yonge subway extension, called ‘Putting it All Together.”

Tom Middlebrook, an engineer from McCormick Rankin Corporation, led the audience in a discussion on preferred alignment, station location and other details of the project.

“We’ve been undertaking planning and conceptual design to determine what the subways should look like,” Middlebrook said.

The next phase of Viva, known as VivaNext, is aimed to put “the rapid into rapid transit.” It involves two subway extensions and dedicated street-level “rapidways” along key corridors in York region. Plans for a Spadina subway extension are in the works, but last night’s meeting focused on Yonge Street and officials announced six new subway stations for commuters: Cummer/Drewry, Steeles, Clark, Royal Orchard, Longbridge/Langstaff and Richmond Hill Centre.

“Hopefully,” Middlebrook said, “we’ll be able to change the mobility patterns of people and create a more sustainable transport system in the future.”

The interactive portion of the meeting took place after Middlebrook’s presentation where many guests were given wireless keypads, which allowed them to vote on questions important to ratifying or modifying the project.

The votes were then electronically tallied and displayed within seconds. Speaking to the audience, vice-president for York Region Transit Corp., Mary-Frances Turner, said before going ahead with construction, the company wanted public input.

“We need your help for us to complete the process … (and) to allow us to take an environmental assessment over the nest few months,” Turner said.

The estimated $2.1-billion project would be completed 2016 if everything goes as planned. One of the biggest plans, Steeles Station, got everybody talking.

On top of building a subway station, engineers hope to construct a large bus terminal, but are still deciding where to build it.

Officials presented three scenarios: build the bus station above ground and somehow integrate Centrepoint Mall; redevelop the northwest corner of that intersection and integrate the bus terminal inside a taller building much like York Mills Station; or, build the hub entirely underground. Sixty per cent of those who cast their vote voted on the third option.

Valerie Asensi, 51, has lived at Yonge Steet and Steeles Avenue for over 17 years and left the meeting pleased. She takes the subway often to Eglinton Station and admits getting to Finch Station by bus frustrates her because of the congestion.

“They want the development to be done with forethought and I think it will be,” Asensi said.

The next public meeting will take place Oct. 16, 2008 at the North York Council Chambers in hopes of getting feedback from North York residents. For more information, log on to www.vivayork.com