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New Island airport tunnel closes 155 years of separation

Posted by Chris Bateman / August 25, 2013

toronto airport tunnelFor the first time in more than a century it's possible to walk to the Toronto Island, albeit through a treacherous unfinished cavern.

When a pneumatic drill punched through the final thin layer of ash-coloured shale just after midday yesterday, the arm of the digger breached an aquatic barrier created by force of nature when Toronto was still York and the Island was still attached by sandbar to the foot of Woodbine Avenue.

toronto airport tunnelWhen it's finished, the Billy Bishop airport pedestrian tunnel will make the absurd two-minute ferry journey from the foot of Bathurst Street largely obsolete, save for vehicle traffic and those disinclined to vanish underground.

The $82.5 million, 800-foot tunnel will also become the first in the world to link an offshore airport (if we can really call Billy Bishop that) to a mainland when the first suitcase-heavy passengers shuffle through next summer.

10-storeys underground, the circular passageway will include four moving sidewalks to whisk passengers at a precise 2.3 km/h (according to the fact sheet) from Eireann Quay and back again, a trip of about six minutes once elevator rides are factored in.

toronto airport tunnelRight now, the Marilyn Bell I, the vehicle ferry that makes the short hop loaded with cars, business travellers and vacationers, has a maximum capacity of 200 people, meaning delays and sometimes long line-ups at peak periods.

Fans of the quirky ferry shouldn't worry, says Geoffrey Wilson, the President and CEO of the Toronto Port Authority.

"The ferry will continue to operate. I would suggest there are some who have grown up as this airport has grown who have taken quite a liking to taking the ferry across ... and the ferry will be open and running in tandem with the tunnel."

toronto airport tunnelChris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Images: Tom Ryaboi



Rick / August 25, 2013 at 01:09 am
Is this airport actually THAT busy that this tunnel is required? Aren't they building a rail system from Pearson going into Union Station as well?

Seems like a lot of money for a tunnel to an airport that seems pretty small. Someone enlighten me.
Khristopher / August 25, 2013 at 03:41 am
A swing bridge, bascule bridge, vertical-lift bridge, or tilt bridge here would have worked just fine. So stupid.
mike / August 25, 2013 at 04:57 am
sooooo stupid. We're going to build an 82 MILLION DOLLAR TUNNEL when we could very easily build a bridge. Oh but you know that ferry that acted as a quirky and perfectly efficient way to transport people across? We're going to keep running that as well, in case you don't like the tunnel.

Maybe they could use that money to develop the waterfront? Or maybe clean up lake ontario, or maybe idon't know, build a subway!
Eric / August 25, 2013 at 08:10 am
No taxpayer money is involved so why do you care so much? They want to build a tunnel, great!
M / August 25, 2013 at 08:11 am
This airport IS busy! And while the tunnel is expensive it is necessary for travellers. It's a great addition to the downtown airport.
BM / August 25, 2013 at 08:54 am
Porter is the best thing that ever happened to Toronto travel.
Holy Thundering Jesus / August 25, 2013 at 09:13 am
Yeah who gives a rats ass that people live down there and that there is a school right by where they decided to put that enormous tunnel, screw them! Bring on the Jets! Jets! Jets!
L / August 25, 2013 at 09:18 am
For the hundreds of thousands of people that live downtown and use Porter and the city airport regularly this is a welcomed addition. It beats getting stuck in 905 traffic and not having to pay for parking or getting a $60 cab to Pearson.

...and to the guy that said they should have used that money to build a subway, go do some research and you will quickly see $82M barely get you 10ft of track, hell that's the part of the sunk cost for just thinking about a subway
Teena / August 25, 2013 at 09:55 am
I use the Island Airport often and am looking forward to the tunnel. The ferry is fun but it will be nice not to have to depend on it.
outofit / August 25, 2013 at 11:17 am
(1) the $82 million tunnel is privately financed and will be paid for by people who use the airport. (2) part of the deal with the city is that the tunnel also includes City of Toronto water and and sewage mains for the Island, which had to be built anyway. (3) the improvement on traffic flow at the airport will be huge. Instead of 4 'waves' of people lining up for check-in and security every hour (i.e. 4 ferry trips per hour), people can come and go as they please before their flight.
Captain Obvious replying to a comment from Khristopher / August 25, 2013 at 12:02 pm
We could of had a bridge years ago, but some dumbass by the name of David Miller put a stop to that when he became mayor.
Sandman / August 25, 2013 at 12:18 pm
Keepin' it ol' school and I'll be stickin' to the Ferry when I travel Porter.
Snailspace / August 25, 2013 at 12:20 pm
Sure, a bridge was probably the better solution here, but the tunnel is a close second, and makes flying out of the airport that much more appealing still. Can absolutely not wait until the runway is lengthened to allow the small jets, thereby increasing even more the relevance of travelling from downtown. Right now, to NYC/Chicago/Boston, its a no brainer for people living downtown and to the east to take Porter. 60-70 dollar taxi rides to Pearson, at the mercy of the horrendous traffic, can go get stuffed. I can go from my door to sitting in the Porter lounge in 30 minutes, including security. Why on earth would i spend nearly 2 hours through the hell of Pearson for a less than 2 hour flight?
dan replying to a comment from Eric / August 25, 2013 at 01:10 pm
thanks for bringing it up. everyone sounds kinda silly freaking out about this. from what i understand its their own money. let them do what they want. plus that airport is amazing. I don't think the people complaining have ever used it.
AJ / August 25, 2013 at 01:20 pm
What a bunch of whining little bitches you all are.
I bet you're the people that call and complain to the port authority because you moved next to an airport and can *gasp* hear airplanes!
d / August 25, 2013 at 01:24 pm
It's their own money, it IS a busy airport, downtown business people LOVE Porter as an alternative to Pearson ... why all the hate?! I think it's a GREAT idea and I have never used it, living in 'Sauga, and probably never will!
Hollie Pollard / August 25, 2013 at 01:52 pm
It simply makes sense, not only do thousands of us live close to Billy Bishop, thousands of business men and women who visit the city for business downtown in the financial core choose Porter. For example friend flew in last week to do biz downtown from Boston with Porter, stayed in hotel downtown, flew out Porter, and didnt have to see Pearson or the 401 traffic. The flights to Boston and New York that I have seen are always full. To me this makes sense.
AJ replying to a comment from d / August 25, 2013 at 02:06 pm
Because Toronto is full of NIMBY's.
It's pathetic.
Me replying to a comment from AJ / August 25, 2013 at 02:11 pm
Probably but then it IS BlogTO and since most here are of the Left persuasion, it is in their very fibre to wake up every day to find something to complain, whine, ban or protest about.
jim yoksimovich replying to a comment from BM / August 25, 2013 at 03:18 pm
What makes Porter so special that only they can fly from this airport>They have the lowest wages and highest workplace infractions.What a collosal waste of 85 million just to save a few precious minutes.They should have to operate out of Pearson like everyone else and leave the waterfront for the people to enjoy.
Me / August 25, 2013 at 03:37 pm
Why so butthurt? It wasn't your 85 million.
Me / August 25, 2013 at 03:43 pm
Funny how many people are self proclaimed experts.
outofit / August 25, 2013 at 04:09 pm
jim: Air Canada also flies out of the Island airport.

I lived on Queens Quay and except for watching the planes, I never even noticed that the airport was there. I doubt the people that use the waterfront are affected in any meaningful way.

Who else responds to blog Comments (or even reads them) except "self proclaimed experts".

W-hat replying to a comment from jim yoksimovich / August 25, 2013 at 04:11 pm
Air canada used to operate out of billy bishop but could not make it profitable. Then Porter showed the world how, and subsequently air canada has weasled back in.

Nice try but you don't know what you are talking about.
steve replying to a comment from Me / August 25, 2013 at 05:31 pm
Your kind of whining is what you are complaining about,you are the one with the attitude not those you claim to have it.
GWS / August 25, 2013 at 05:47 pm
Air Canada bought Air Ontario, Now Jazz, then they cancel the Island Flights. Yes a bridge was to be built but Idiot People and David Miller had this cancelled forever. The Owner of Porter used to own Air Ontario. The only thing Air Canada does is take over then fuck it up. 30years ago the tunnel was only $40 million
bryanna replying to a comment from W-hat / August 25, 2013 at 05:54 pm
yes, porter showed the world how by cozying up, inextricably to the federally controlled TPA, flying politicos around on half empty planes for exorbitant prices (Wallin anybody?!), low wages for workers and not paying their taxes to Toronto (which are adding up to close to the amount this tunnel cost).
This, Canada, is your economic action plan.
I'm going to bet that once this tunnel is done and the jets get a thumbs up, deluce cashes out and makes off like the bandit he is.
bryanna replying to a comment from W-hat / August 25, 2013 at 05:56 pm
to be clear: air canada was forced out of the island by deluces friends at the TPA when he expressed interest and bought into the site.
andrewS replying to a comment from W-hat / August 25, 2013 at 06:57 pm
I'm not so sure that Porter is actually profitable. They backed down from the IPO in a hurry for mysterious reasons, and they're also the brain trust behind Canada 3000, which went down in flames a decade ago after limping along for more than a decade itself.
Me replying to a comment from steve / August 25, 2013 at 07:26 pm
That hardly even makes sense.
David Millers Ballsack replying to a comment from Holy Thundering Jesus / August 25, 2013 at 08:06 pm
STFU stupid leftard. The airport existed long before you condo dwelling losers, so shut your gap and deal with progress. Its a great airport and Porter is an excellent airline. Lets build for Toronto's future not pander to blog writing coffee poofs like you! So there…..Go eat A cronut burger dickwad….
Mark / August 25, 2013 at 08:27 pm
Tunnel really is the best option. You try walking across a suspension bridge at -30 in January when the wind is blowing freezing water off the lake. I'll take the tunnel thanks...
Sal replying to a comment from BM / August 25, 2013 at 08:42 pm
Porter is the worst thing that ever happened to Toronto's waterfront and tourism.
E. Toby Coke replying to a comment from Sal / August 25, 2013 at 09:08 pm
Sal, it's also a homegrown success story that happens to use airplanes made right here in town.

If you came across this airline in Stockholm or Copenhagen, you'd probably think it was nifty and sensible.
ROBERT PROWSE / August 25, 2013 at 09:13 pm
Talk about the bridge and Miller is bullshit. I think the tunnel is a great idea but spoke against the bridge years ago because it would have kept sailboats out of the harbour - one of the reasons to go there. Let's not have too much revisionist history. The western gap has been there for 200 hundred years. Just because a few bureaucrats have to get to Ottawa faster doesn't mean we need to forgo the ferry. I've flown out of the Island lots of time and have never found the ferry a serious delay. The only people who are bothered are those who have to use their cell phones while driving....get a life!

Dennis Bryant / August 25, 2013 at 09:43 pm
Twenty years from now we will be asking ourselves; what were we thinking in allowing an ever growing airport into our downtown. An airport for the few does not make for a good quality of life for the majority who live here.
Simon Tarses replying to a comment from Sal / August 25, 2013 at 09:53 pm
I thought you were.
B Dywan replying to a comment from outofit / August 25, 2013 at 11:21 pm
The 'deal' that Toronto gets water and sewer lines brought over with the tunnel- are because of the airport. The water and sewer lines are not benefiting people who live or visit the Island. This is a spurious argument for how much Toronto is 'saving', when they wouldn't be spending it if the airport wasn't there. It is ridiculous to maintain that travelers are paying for the tunnel- do the math, that would take about 40 years. And many of those counted who use the airport are not traveling Porter, who charge a head tax of $20 for the tunnel. So let's call it 50 years...Let's face it, Porter will be sold within 5 years.
Shirley / August 25, 2013 at 11:25 pm
Idiots!! An unnecesssary tunnel to an unnecessary airport...TPA was right in 2009 when it said "jets incompatible with a densely populated mixed-use commmunity surrounded by recreational and cultural amenities". WHAT changed their minds? Toronto has always voted against a fixed link, but citizens did not get a chance this time. Three-quarters of passengers are same day in-and-out or one day. Big profits? Almost 4000 Medevac flights last year? Hahahahahahahah,,, suckers!!!
Kara replying to a comment from W-hat / August 25, 2013 at 11:28 pm
Air Canada (express) is very much alive and well at island airport. Flew YTZ to YUL (Montreal) 16 times in past 3 months.

But would be nice if they expanded their reach to NYC out of island airport. A lot of business travellers like myself appreciate the short taxi to the airport ...tunnel will be appreciated during rush hour!
Andrew / August 25, 2013 at 11:29 pm
A bridge would have been cheaper...
Garneay / August 25, 2013 at 11:54 pm
If you've ever sailed in the Toronto harbour, you know why a bridge wouldn't have worked here. Too much boat traffic.
Mr Ornot / August 26, 2013 at 12:11 am
Working in Etobicoke last few weeks (Kipling and Westway) I couldn't help noticing the air traffic noise to and from Pearson and Downsview! Puts the Island noise concerns in considerable perspective.
AJ replying to a comment from Shirley / August 26, 2013 at 01:24 am
Judging by your ignorant and incoherent rant, I'd say it's probably time for your next dose of Valium...
ma / August 26, 2013 at 04:22 am
I bet they put in a staircase as a second thought, without any natural light, and without any sort of architectural merit, despite this thing being 10 stories down AND pedestrian infrastructure. lol, I'll take VIA thanks,.
Gwen / August 26, 2013 at 07:59 am
What a terrible waste of time and money all for greedy croneyism! With the rail line coming in from Pearson, why is this city trying to ruin our waterfront?! Build some subways and invest in our city. That tunnel is for the 2% business traffic saving 5 extra minutes.
zkpxo / August 26, 2013 at 08:00 am
I don't know why a lot of these ignorant people criticizing the project... do your research...

"In the case of the TPA, the pedestrian tunnel's construction will be financed over time by passengers who use the service, through the Airport Improvement Fee of $20 included in their flight cost. The public sector, and the taxpayer, would not pay for the construction of the tunnel under this public private partnership process."

So if you don't fly through this airport, that means you are not paying a single cent for it. Quit the complaining about the cost, especially if it does not affect you in any way.
Gwen replying to a comment from W-hat / August 26, 2013 at 08:05 am
There's no proof that Porter is really making a profit at this time, and rumor has it that they are waiting for a buy out from West Jet!
Gwen replying to a comment from Me / August 26, 2013 at 08:06 am
You think TPA's federal money doesn't come out of our pockets?!!!
Gwen replying to a comment from Eric / August 26, 2013 at 08:08 am
Of course taxpayer money is involved! They say they will pay it back out of user fees but that will take decades. Meanwhile TPA is spending your federal tax dollars!
AJ replying to a comment from Gwen / August 26, 2013 at 08:23 am
Are you a complete idiot or are you just incapable of reading?
W Fisher / August 26, 2013 at 08:29 am
"Absurd two-minute ferry journey"? A biased statement from the author jettisons this article from being objective to one man's personal view -- an op-ed. What is truly "absurd" is that the 155 years of separation between Toronto mainland and Toronto is no closer for hundreds of thousands of recreational users of the Toronto Islands. The tunnel is for the exclusive use of passengers and employees of the Island Airport. There is no access beyond the airport -- not exactly something to celebrate considering the Toronto Islands belong to all the people of Toronto. The rest of us will continue to wait in long lineups at the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal for a much longer ferry ride -- and most of us are quite willing to do so as people have done for more than 100 years. Remind me again how a two-minute ferry ride is absurd and a tunnel with restricted usage is not.
Braz Menezes replying to a comment from Hollie Pollard / August 26, 2013 at 08:32 am
Millions of people love our waterfront and want to preserve it for future generations, just as we inherited and benefited from the vision of civic leaders in the past. No objection to turb 400s, but jets definelty belong to Pearson, not the Island Airport.

Also TPA refuse to divulge how much tax dollars have been committed to building tunnel, but sat City will be saving millions. Why the lack of transparency?
Justin bernard / August 26, 2013 at 09:28 am
A bridge may have been cheaper, but it would have to be lift or bascule bridge. A tunnel was the best choice for a crossing to the airport and would be welcome. Using the ferry during peak times can be a lengthy wait, I am sure this tunnel will be welcomed by airport customers.

Simon / August 26, 2013 at 09:35 am
I live by the waterfront and love having access to a quality airport and, at the same time, I don't hear the planes taking off and landing! I'm also a big fan of this tunnel as it minimizes the impact it has on the boat traffic that surrounds the airport, which belongs there. We've got a great waterfront that's (hopefully) going to be even greater in 10 years and operations such as this tunnel prove that they're doing their best to avoid disrupting the area (the jets are another issue). I use this airport whenever I can and I've got zero problem spending an extra 20 bucks a trip to help fund this. Porter is a pleasure to fly on and, as long as they're able to keep operating, I really don't worry if they're making a profit and I'm not sure why so many people are so opinionated on the profits of an airline.
Simon / August 26, 2013 at 09:37 am
Also, if you never fly out of this airport and you don't live close to it, WHY DO YOU CARE SO MUCH?? People need to be taking the efforts they spend making uninformed, useless online commentary and focus those efforts onto something that'll be a tad more productive.
Alex / August 26, 2013 at 10:00 am
I love the island airport, it's just so much more convenient than Pearson. I hope they allow those new quieter jets soon so that Porter can expand out west.
TJ / August 26, 2013 at 10:10 am
People should know that during peak periods, if you just missed the ferry, the time for the ferry to come back and unload and go back is roughly 25 mins. I experienced it twice. This tunnel will allow the passenger to walk/run without having to wait for the ferry. If you are willing to walk/run in the tunnel, it will only be 3-6 mins from the mainland to the island. Huge times savings there.
Has Anyone Actually Flown Porter / August 26, 2013 at 10:51 am
And complained.

All those who say we don't need a downtown airport. Should be required to

1. fly to Montreal from Pearson during rush hour
2. fly to Montreal from the island during rush hour
3. have a coffee on a nearby patio to the island airport

Once people have objectively considered have much superior the experience is from flying out of the island and actually sat close enough to consider just small the noise effect is. They might actually be able to have a mature discourse.

I lived blocks away from the island airport and got used to the flight sounds very quickly. Frankly they are quieter than the sound of street cars and the subway that you can hear from ground level. And the view of the landing planes gives some nice kinetic energy espeically with the sailboats on a nice day.
Simon Tarses replying to a comment from Simon / August 26, 2013 at 11:14 am
You KNOW why. They need something to whine about. Hell, these are the same people who protest and boycott entirely different countries! If the left can't find something nearby to complain about or ban, they will scour the entire planet in their quest for self importance and entitlement.
the lemur / August 26, 2013 at 01:12 pm
There will never be a bridge to the airport, except maybe a movable one, because of shipping/sailing. Where a bridge is really needed is across the eastern gap (ped/bike only).
Tings replying to a comment from Rick / August 27, 2013 at 01:17 am
Yeah, and Billy Bishop paid for the tunnel. Don't you fret over your taxpayer woes, Rick.
GRAARG / August 27, 2013 at 11:13 am
Re bridge: Not sure if any of you have seen the Western Gap on a busy summer day. I can assure you the bridge proposed 10 years ago would have resulted in carnage as the boats piled up waiting for one narrow opening. And when I say carnage, I mean boats crashing into one and other, boats crashing into the bridge, and people getting seriously injured, not to mention the bridge being shut every time a boat smashed into it.
Alex replying to a comment from Khristopher / August 27, 2013 at 03:30 pm
Mario / August 27, 2013 at 10:32 pm
You try walking over the outdoor bridge in January over open water dumb ass... The Tunnel is the best idea for the future of the airport. A tunnel is needed now or it will never get done. APPLAUSE!!!!!!
Mario / August 27, 2013 at 10:34 pm
These are the kind of city progress/optimization that our Mayor is making happen. Do you want to be caught up in politics and red tape or have a mayor that gets shit like this done!
Serge / August 27, 2013 at 11:53 pm
OK, I don't know this area too well, but couldn't they have incorporated the tunnel into the Harbourfront LRT line instead? Great boost to public transit and bonus new way of getting across to the island without the stupid ferry.
John Spragge / August 28, 2013 at 02:16 am
A great many people live near Pearson. In some cases, near means right across the road from the perimeter fence. The city Left missed very badly on this one: they agitated against removing any of the burdens from mostly marinalized, racialized working class communities of northern Etobicoke and Malton. In addition, anyone who claimed to care for the environment should have supported the use of the Q-400, which has, by current estimates, 1/3rd the greenhouse gas impacts of the jets that fly out of Pearson.
AJ replying to a comment from Mario / August 28, 2013 at 09:22 am
Mario, this tunnel has nothing to do with the "mayor"...
It was privately funded by airport improvement fees.
AJ replying to a comment from Serge / August 28, 2013 at 09:23 am
Show me where there's room for a streetcar loop at island airport after all the expansion they've done.
Diane Shears / August 28, 2013 at 10:33 am
It's time to follow our sister city's lead and bulldoze the island airport, returning it to parkland for the use of ALL Toronto's citizens.
Louis Street / August 28, 2013 at 11:03 am
Sure, a bunch of construction cos. are doing it for free. Uh, no. They collect $150m. + operating fees from the Toronto Port Authority over 14 years. TPA, given an airport for free, bleeds it by taxing customers. Public that owns the Island Airport has no say in electing who runs it or what it does with money it collects. So it decides to build a $150m + tunnel for Porter, wants to fill part of lake and harbour so Porter can fly jets it bought without asking about rights to fly them from Island, spends public dollars lobbying city hall with wild claims of prosperity for all, overlooking that Porter's losing money, under fire from investors like Gluskin Sheff, like Porter, one of companies on whose board Wallin used to sit. That, plus the fact alleged crackhead Ford and his mouthpiece brother will vote for Airport expansion, make Toronto Porter Authority the nexus between two of Canada's biggest political scandals. But hey, Porter gives away free coffee and the TPA makes it all up to us with a waterfront movie night. feeling better now?
George replying to a comment from Rick / August 28, 2013 at 12:46 pm
Rick, the airport is incredibly busy and getting busier. As someone who travels through Billy Bishop Airport frequently it's easier to get to from downtown than Pearson and the experience flying with Porter is by far better than any other airline I have travelled with.
LOL replying to a comment from Diane Shears / August 28, 2013 at 04:55 pm
Yeah, good luck with that one
E. Toby Coke replying to a comment from Louis Street / August 29, 2013 at 06:01 am
That's all par for the course in the wild world of aviation -- except that customers aren't usually happy.
John Spragge replying to a comment from Diane Shears / August 29, 2013 at 12:30 pm
Our "sister city" has seventeen reliever airports in their general area. We have four. A decade after vandalizing the coolest little airport on the planet, Chicago has a mediocre stretch of scrubland to show for it. Toronto would have the job of making a toxic swamp into a park; Billy Bishop City Centre Airport sits on toxic bottom mud dredged out of the harbour in the thirties.

Closing City Centre would also boost Transport Canada's case for the Pickering airport, ruining some of the last arable land in the GTA, and trashing Green River and Whitvale.

No thanks.

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