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Should Toronto build a bridge to the Islands? A city councillor wants to find out

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A city councillor will table a motion later this week asking staff to study the possibility of establishing a permanent pedestrian link to the Toronto Islands.

The motion from Coun. Jon Burnside comes just weeks after two of the five ferries to Toronto Islands went out of service on June 14.

The city increased the frequency of its three remaining ferries in response, but warned island-goers to expect “long wait times.”

Burnside called the city’s response, which also encouraged people to consider taking a water taxi or visiting another day, a “horrible message” to send, creating barriers to accessing the public park.

He said that for him it translated to the city saying,“You can't come to the gem of our city because we can’t handle the capacity.”

Ahead of the Canada Day long weekend, the city told CTV News Toronto on Monday that the Trillium is back in operation as needed and Thomas Rennie repairs are expected to be completed in the coming days.

The Toronto Islands ferries, some of which are now more than a century old, will be replaced, but the upgrade has been delayed until at least 2026, along with the introduction of two electric ferries the city is planning to add to the fleet.

The city increased the frequency of ferry trips to Toronto Island after wo of its five ferries went out of commission for repairs. According to Burnside, those delays have been accompanied by skyrocketing costs.

“We know that these electrified ferries, just the administration for the top consultants, have tripled in price, ballooned from $3.5 million to $9.3 million. So that’s why I want them to look at this (the fixed link) in conjunction with ferries,” he said.

'The next logical step'

Toronto lawyer April Engelberg presented the idea of building a bridge to the Islands while running for city council in 2022. That summer, a ferry slammed into the docks with 910 people onboard, leaving 12 with minor injuries.

“This is a perennial issue that will keep coming up every summer,” she said.

According to her research, only a 250-metre gap exists between the Port Lands and Ward’s Island.

With major development underway in the Port Lands, including construction of Ontario Line’s Corktown Station, the Waterfront East LRT, and bike lanes on Cherry Street, the bridge would be transit-accessible, she points out.

While the cost of developing a bridge would need to be studied by the city to peg a precise figure, Engelberg said for context, the four new bridges constructed nearby, including the Cherry Street North and Commissioners Street bridges, together cost $100 million.

“The bridge is just a logical next step,” she said.

The concept of a pedestrian link to the Toronto Islands has long been discussed but little headway has been made.

One Toronto resident who spoke with CTV News Toronto said that the ferry experience, which he compared to lining up for a theme park ride, has kept him away from visiting the Islands.

“Just getting there is super frustrating, and once you’re there, you could wait a really long time to get back,” Reece Martin said, noting the last time he made the trip a couple years ago, he got stuck for 90 minutes on the other side waiting for a ferry.

If a bridge connected the Port Lands to the Islands, he’d return. “It would become a remote but accessible place,” Martin said. 

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