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Tunnel To Toronto City Airport To Go Ahead

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The Toronto Port Authority will go ahead with a CAD$45 million (USD$43.7 million) pedestrian tunnel to Toronto's island airport to improve access and meet higher demand, the agency's chief executive said on Tuesday.

The federally run authority owns and operates the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, which sits just minutes from the downtown core and is popular with business travelers.

Construction on the tunnel will likely begin in January after an environmental assessment is completed and a company is chosen through a bidding process to build, finance, and maintain the tunnel, CEO Geoffrey Wilson said.

"We know just from the build up for this that there is a very wide group of interest to both finance and build this tunnel from varying parties across Canada and, indeed, North America," he said.

Wilson added that the public-private partnership would rely on user fees rather than government money and that an increase in the CAD$20 airport improvement fee would not be required.

It will take about two years to build the tunnel, which will bore through the shale underneath a 123 meter (400 foot) stretch of Lake Ontario. The tailings will be used to create a ring road around the airport, Wilson said.

Some residents in the lakefront area of Toronto have vocally opposed any increase in the airport's size and commercial operations, but a TPA-commissioned study by pollster Ipsos Reid found that 55 percent of the people in the area support the idea of a pedestrian tunnel. Currently, a ferry shuttles passengers to and from the island airport.

About 770,000 passengers used the airport in 2009 and the port authority expects about 1.2 million passengers in 2010.

That number will jump in the coming years as 90 new takeoff and landing slots, or 45 round-trip flights, were recently added to the airport, along with two new carriers. There are now 202 slots, for a potential 101 daily takeoffs and landings.

Regional carrier Porter Airlines currently enjoys a monopoly on flying out of the airport, but Air Canada was allotted 30 of the new slots and US-based Continental Airlines was given 16. Porter was given the rest.

Air Canada, the country's largest airline, flew out of the airport until 2006 through its regional feeder service Jazz Air, but was evicted by the TPA and Porter.

Last week, Air Canada asked a Canadian court scrap the recent decision on slot allocation, arguing that Porter was given too big a share.

The court has not ruled yet, but Wilson said the building of the tunnel would not be affected regardless. He added that he expects Air Canada to begin flying out of Billy Bishop airport once new gates are completed to accommodate the new flights at the terminal.

"I am very optimistic that we'll be seeing them fly out of the airport when those gates are finished construction, which will be December of this year, he said.

Air Canada and Jazz fly currently from Toronto's much bigger Pearson Airport, which often takes 45 minutes to reach by car from downtown.

(Reuters)

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