For commuters who travel through Toronto’s Union Station, construction has been a challenging reality for the past nine years — but officials say the $823-million revitalization and expansion project is on track to be fully completed by the end of September 2020.
After encountering delays and budget increases throughout the course of the project, staff involved with the massive construction project hosted a media tour on Tuesday of the Bay concourse and retail areas just west of Bay Street that are still under construction in an effort to demonstrate that work is proceeding along.
The expansion part of the project saw contractors dig out a whole new basement level below the entire station to noticeably increase the amount of retail and commercial space as well as build new passenger concourses — all while crews restored major heritage elements of the 92-year-old structure.
“You can’t anticipate all of the things that are required in a heritage structure of this nature — it’s huge — and you don’t know when you open a wall what’s behind it,” Frank Molinari, interim director of the City of Toronto’s project management office, told reporters.
Keeping the station functional has also been a major challenge, he said.
“It’s extremely complicated … you have to consider that we had to hold up the columns for the trains, dig down, support the track, build a new column below that so the construction could continue.”
Most of the remaining work focuses on just a few areas: the new Bay passenger concourse, the retail level west of Bay Street and new glass moat and walkway covers.
At the Bay concourse, there will be triple the amount of space for passengers, as well as improved platform access points and new customer service counters. The new retail level will extend east from the recently-opened food court under the York concourse and will see two commercial zones: one for major chains and big box-style operations, while the other will be a “fresh market” for local, Toronto-based operators (it’s envisioned to be similar to St. Lawrence Market).
The City of Toronto also highlighted the completion of the York concourse, the VIA Panorama lounge and two new bike parking areas.
Up until September 2020, City of Toronto staff say there will be staged openings of the remaining space as those are completed. Parts of the Bay concourse and some Front Street promenade retail spaces, they said, are close to being turned over to Metrolinx, the provincial operator of GO Transit and UP Express, and Osmington, the head leasee overseeing retail leases and operations, respectively.
It’s anticipated the Bay concourse will open before the lower retail level.
Officials were quick to note that despite all the work that has been done at Union Station, it won’t be the last. There are ongoing discussions aimed at coming up with a way to increase train capacity at the station to accommodate proposed regional express rail projects.
Meanwhile, when asked what could have been done to expedite the work at Union Station, Molinari said staff and contractor crews have been working as expeditiously as possible.
“I don’t know of anything that could have made the project go any quicker than it did,” he said.