Construction of a new streetcar line could drive customers away and sap revenue, business owners on a stretch of Sheppard Avenue East say.
The city officially broke ground in December on the 14-kilometre light rail line, which provides streetcars a dedicated right of way between the Don Mills subway station and Meadowvale Road.
The project is part of Toronto's Transit City plan, which will add dozens of kilometres of streetcar lines across the city — particularly underserved areas in the outer reaches.
But Sam Bawab, the owner of Seven Star Electronics on Sheppard near Birchmount Road, said the impact of construction is already affecting his bottom line.
"The bigger businesses are already taking over our clientele," he said. "I think it will cause probably traffic jams and it might affect my business drastically — especially in this economy, right?"
Coun. Joe Mihevc, who sits on the TTC board, admits businesses will be inconvenienced during the line's construction, which is scheduled to conclude in 2013.
"It's short-term pain for long-term gain," Mihevc said. "People like the product, and they like the dream at the beginning. The problem is that construction period — how to get through it as quickly and painlessly as possible."
St. Clair line plagued by delays
However, construction on the city's most recent light rail project has been anything but quick and painless. Work that began on a dedicated streetcar line on St. Clair Avenue West in the fall of 2005 was plagued by delays.
The most high-profile stoppage came because of a court-ordered suspension on construction following a legal challenge mounted by advocacy group Save Our St. Clair. The group argued that the project would create gridlock and eat up parking spaces vital to the neighbourhood's survival.
The suspension was later overturned, and construction continued on the line, which is expected to be completed by the spring. But costs have ballooned and businesses have complained bitterly about the drawn-out construction.
Katherine Varvatsoulis, the owner of Katherine's Hair Artistry on Sheppard, is well aware of what happened on St Clair. She said she is simply hoping for the best as construction ramps up outside her business.
"Yeah, [construction] concerns me, but I just wonder if there's anything we can do about it. I don't think so," she said.
The city has learned from the St. Clair experience, Mihevc said, adding planners could have never predicted the difficulties that emerged.
Council has commissioned an independent review of the St. Clair project, the results of which will be presented to the TTC at a meeting on Wednesday.
And Toronto will strive to consult with the public over the Sheppard construction, Mihevc said.
"Year One, Year Two — every month you need to update people [so] they continue to buy into the vision of what you're trying to do and that they are brought along each step of the way so they know exactly where they are in the construction process," he said.
"Light rail is how the city of Toronto is going to become an even better city. There's things that we've learned in the process to do better. That's good. Let's incorporate them, and let's get on with building Sheppard, Eglinton and Finch."
Considered the city's most ambitious plan in a generation, Transit City relies heavily on expanding and adding streetcar lines as opposed to building new subway routes as a means of upgrading the public transit service.
Building streetcar lines is cheaper and quicker than building subway lines, with an estimated price tag of $30 million per kilometre of track. Subway routes can cost more than $100 million per kilometre.