“There is light at the tunnel” for a $823 million construction project that is transforming Union Station in downtown Toronto, city officials say, even though project has experienced delays and is costing more than originally estimated.
City spokesperson Brad Ross said the city is not only restoring Union Station, a national historic site that opened in 1927, but also turning it into a more modern facility. He said the station is the busiest transportation hub in Canada, with more than 300,000 commuters going through it daily.
“Because trains need to continue to run, construction projects like Union Station take longer because you need to keep the facility operating. You need to make sure that people remain safe,” Ross told reporters wearing hard hats on Tuesday.
“You finish one piece, turn that over and then close another, so it feels like it is sort of never-ending, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, which is why we are here today, to show everybody all that work that is happening,” he said.
“We are literally digging out new basements to expand the facility and make the facility modern and transform it so that this premier destination, this people place, frankly, is a welcoming environment. It is accessible.”
On Tuesday, officials took reporters on a tour of parts of the building under construction, taking them through what will be the new Union Food Court, the Bay retail level, and then up a level to the future Bay Concourse. In 2020, sections of the Bay Concourse are expected to be open.
The Bay retail level will include a market for fresh produce, prepared foods and restaurant food as well as retail space and a connection to the city’s underground network of pedestrian walkways known as the PATH system.
Crews dug down to create new levels
According to the city, crews dug several metres below Union Station’s existing floor to create space for the Bay retail level and the Bay and York Concourses, which service GO trains.
The excavation stretched from Bay to York Streets south of Front Street. It was done below the tracks while trains operated above ground.
According to Bruce Hawkins, senior communications adviser for the city, the original budget for the entire project was $640 million, but the final amount approved by council is $823 million.
Ross said the city does not expect costs to exceed $823 million budgeted for the project.
“That is the council approved budget. At this time, that is the expectation,” he said.
“When you get into major construction projects like this, you discover things that you cannot anticipate,” he added.
“That does add costs. There is contingency that are built into projects like this. This is a massive undertaking. It’s several, several years of construction, as people have seen.”
Tour shows ‘there is a lot of work going on’
Ross said the city organized the tour to show the public that the project is nearing completion.
“There is a lot of work going on. There is actual progress happening. There are a lot of accomplishments that have happened to date,” he said.
“Prior to all of this work, this station was not built for the 21st century, let’s face it,” he said. “To be able to expand this, to grow it to meet a growing city, is really what this is all about.”
When the revitalization is complete, the city says on its website that Union Station will have doubled its “pedestrian capacity.” It will also have restored heritage elements, and been turned into what the city hopes will be a “major destination.”