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Under Eglinton: Touring Progress at Keelesdale LRT station

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Twenty-five metres (82 feet) below Eglinton Avenue West, I suddenly and absurdly thought, “Wow, this is actually happening!”

“This” is the 19-kilometre (11.8-mile) Crosstown Light Rail Transit line, stretching from Mount Dennis on the west side of Toronto to Kennedy in the east. I was standing at what will eventually be track level in the future Keelesdale station.

View of track level at the future Keelesdale LRT StationUnderground at at track level at Keelesdale LRT Station, looking east. Image, courtesy of Metrolinx

I write a lot about public transit projects and so, of course, am completely aware of the details of this project: the demolished buildings; the blocked roadways and sidewalks; and the seemingly endless traffic jams. Even though construction has been underway for more than three years, all that street-level work seems, psychologically at least, completely separate from the hive of activity taking place under it, because for most people it’s hidden from view. Although I recently visited the mostly outdoor station at Mount Dennis—one stop to the west—the effect of heading underground for the first time was astonishing.

Aerial-view rendering of Keelesdale Station on the future Crosstown LRT lineAerial-view rendering of Keelesdale Station, as it will appear when the LRT is operating, image, Metrolinx

Metrolinx and its contractors, Crosslinx Transit Solutions, invited members of the media to tour the future station to help explain the “cut-and-cover” construction process that Crosslinx is using to build nine of the line’s 15 underground stations.

The future station at the intersection of Eglinton with Keele Street and Trethewey Drive will eventually have three street-level structures to allow passengers to enter and exit the station. We first visited the site of the main entrance on the northwest corner of Eglinton and Trethewey to peer down into the excavation toward the station base, where, shortly, we would be standing. Daniel Sanchez, Crosslinx’ project manager for the station, acted as our tour guide and led us through two major work areas, describing the process of building the station.

View of the main entrance of future Keelesdale LRT Station under constructionLooking southeast toward Eglinton at the site of the future main entrance. Note suspended pipes, image, Robert Mackenzie

In March 2016, crews started installing permanent station head- and side-walls at the site. First, they built shoring walls around the areas that they intended to excavate. Shoring required the contractors to drive large steel beams called soldier piles deep into the ground at regular intervals along the perimeter of the station, and around the station’s entrance buildings. In between each vertical steel beam, lagging—timber slats—was inserted to carry the load. Then, digging commenced, and once they were deep enough to reach the tunnels that had already been constructed, the tunnel liners were removed at each station site.

Premier Wynne at the launch of construction of Keelesdale LRT StationPremier Kathleen Wynne launched construction of Keelesdale Station in March, 2016, image courtesy of Metrolinx

The shoring walls for station’s excavation pit—about 130 metres long by 20 metres wide (426.5 by 65.6 feet)—were supported by both steel braces or tie-backs drilled into the earth as the pit grew deeper. In total, the crews removed about 80,000 cubic metres or 2,825,173 cubic feet of material from the site.

Rendering of the main entrance to Keelesdale LRT StationRendering of the main station entrance on the northeast corner of Trethewey and Eglinton, image, Metrolinx

A problem, Sanchez said, was ensuring traffic could flow along Eglinton and Keele while crews worked under the street. His crews temporarily shifted traffic to the north side of Eglinton and the east side of Keele and Trethewey, while they dug a shallow pit on the other side. They then installed wooden decking above the excavated area so the traffic lanes could then be restored. Next, the process was repeated on the south and west. The decking required 2,300 square metres (24,757 square feet) of wood—enough to cover the floors of five basketball courts.

“This is an interesting project,” Sanchez said. “One of the many challenges that made it interesting was the large number of underground utilities at the site, including water-mains and sanitary and storm sewers. He pointed to a large pipe that was suspended high above the pit, stretching from east to west close to street level. He explained that at this site his team couldn’t relocate these “wet” utilities, so they carefully dug around them then installed hangers to suspend them from the street deck, allowing them to dig deeper below.

Rendering of the secondary entrance to Keelesdale LRT StationRendering of the plaza in front of the secondary entrance at the northwest corner of Trethewey and Eglinton, image, Metrolinx

Sanchez then guided us across the street to the site of the tertiary entrance on the southeast corner of Keele and Eglinton. (A secondary entrance stands on the northwest corner beside York Memorial Collegiate Institute.) There we descended about five stories down to the floor of the site, where workers busily laboured while reporters filmed and interviewed Sanchez and other Crosslinx officials further.

View of track level at the future Keelesdale LRT StationLooking up from track level toward the main entrance, image, Metrolinx

Light streamed from the site of the station entrance structures above, simulating the final effect for passengers awaiting trains when construction ends. (All street-level entrances will be mostly glass.) The high ceilings gave the site a cathedral-like atmosphere, with the twin tunnel portals at the east end demanding our visual attention. Orange tarpaulin covered much of the rough concrete floor, which the team had poured just the day before while a non-stop parade of concrete mixer trucks and a series of pumps delivered liquid concrete to the site continuously over eight hours.

Rendering of the tertiary entrance to Keelesdale LRT StationRendering of the tertiary (third) station entrance on the southeast corner of Keele and Eglinton, image, Metrolinx

Crosslinx expects to substantially finish the station by July 2020, when Metrolinx starts using it as part of a test track for the Bombardier cars. The cars will be prepared for passenger service by first logging 600 hours during short runs between Mount Dennis and Caledonia stations; Caledonia is the next station east of Keelesdale.

Rendering of track level at Keelesdale LRT StationRendering of track level, when LRT trains are in service, image, Metrolinx

When open to passengers, targeted for September 2021, the station will also include a four-bay bus terminal behind the main entrance at Trethewey and Yore Road. (Keelesdale is one of the few Crosstown stations to get such a terminal.) The TTC plans for buses in both directions along the 41 Keele and 941 Keele express routes to stop in the terminal. Local buses along a new route, which the TTC is tentatively designating as 58 Trethewey, will also call there.

Rendering of future TTC bus terminal at Keelesdale LRT StationRendering of the future TTC bus terminal at Keelesdale LRT Station, image, Metrolinx

Crosslinx is using cut-and-cover to build eight more stations along the line: Caledonia, Fairbank, Forest Hill, Chaplin, Mount Pleasant, Leaside, Laird (part), and Science Centre. It’s mining where geology permits—digging out the stations from the shafts at the entrance sites, and working deep beneath the surface with much less impact to the street above—at Oakwood, Avenue Road, and Laird (part). Cedarvale and Eglinton stations require a variety of construction methods because they serve as interchange stations with the TTC’s U-shaped Line 1 Yonge – University subway.

UrbanToronto will continue to update you on the Crosstown LRT project as it progresses. What do you think about this station or the line? You can add your thoughts in the space provided on this page, or join the discussion in our dedicated Forum thread.


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Real Estate

5 ways to reduce your mortgage amortization

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Since the pandemic hit, a lot of Canadians have been affected financially and if you’re on a mortgage, reducing your amortization period can be of great help.

A mortgage amortization period is the amount of time it would take a homeowner to completely pay off their mortgage. The amortization is typically an estimate based on what the interest rate for your current term is. Calculating your amortization is done easily using a loan amortization calculator which shows you the different payment schedules within your amortization period.

 In Canada, if you made a down payment that is less than the recommended 20 per cent of the total cost of your home, then the longest amortization period you’re allowed to have is 25 years. The mortgage amortization period not only affects the length of time it would take to completely repay the loan, but also the amount of interest paid over the lifecycle of the mortgage.

Typically, longer amortization periods involve making smaller monthly payments and having a much higher total interest cost over the duration of the mortgage. While on the other hand, shorter amortization periods entails making larger monthly payments and having lower total interest costs.

It’s the dream of every homeowner to become mortgage-free. A general rule of thumb would be to try and keep your monthly mortgage costs as low as possible—preferably below 30 per cent of your monthly income. Over time, you may become more financially stable by either getting a tax return, a bonus or an additional source of income and want to channel that towards your principal.

There are several ways to keep your monthly mortgage payments low and reduce your amortization. Here are a few ways to achieve that goal:

1. Make a larger down payment

Once you’ve decided to buy a home, always consider putting asides some significant amount of money that would act as a down payment to reduce your monthly mortgage. While the recommended amount to put aside as a down payment is 20 per cent,  if you aren’t in a hurry to purchase the property or are more financial buoyant, you can even pay more.

Essentially, the larger your down payment, the lower your mortgage would be as it means you’re borrowing less money from your lender. However, if you pay at least 20 per cent upfront, there would be no need for you to cover the additional cost of private mortgage insurance which would save you some money.

2. Make bi-weekly payments

Most homeowners make monthly payments which amount to 12 payments every year. But if your bank or lender offers the option of accelerated bi-weekly payment, you will be making an equivalent of one more payment annually. Doing this will further reduce your amortization period by allowing you to pay off your mortgage much faster.

3. Have a fixed renewal payment

It is normal for lenders to offer discounts on interest rate during your amortization period. However, as you continuously renew your mortgage at a lower rate, always keep a fixed repayment sum.

Rather than just making lower payments, you can keep your payments static, since the more money applied to your principal, the faster you can clear your mortgage.

4. Increase your payment amount

Many mortgages give homeowners the option to increase their payment amount at least once a year. Now, this is very ideal for those who have the financial capacity to do so because the extra money would be added to your principal.

Irrespective of how small the increase might be, in the long run, it would make a huge difference. For example, if your monthly mortgage payment is about $2,752 per month. It would be in your best interest to round it up to $2,800 every month. That way, you are much closer to reducing your mortgage amortization period.

5. Leverage on prepayment privileges

The ability for homeowners to make any form of prepayment solely depends on what mortgage features are provided by their lender.

With an open mortgage, you can easily make additional payments at any given time. However, if you have a closed mortgage—which makes up the larger percentage of existing mortgages—you will need to check if you have the option of prepayments which would allow you to make extra lump sum payments.

Additionally, there may also be the option to make extra lump sum payments at the end of your existing mortgage term before its time for renewal.

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Real Estate

Mortgage insurance vs. life insurance: What you need to know

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Your home is likely the biggest asset you’ll ever own. So how can you protect it in case something were to happen to you? To start, homeowners have a few options to choose from. You can either:

  • ensure you have mortgage protection with a life insurance policy from an insurance company or
  • get mortgage insurance from a bank or mortgage lender.

Mortgage insurance vs. life insurance: How do they each work?  

The first thing to know is that life insurance can be a great way to make sure you and your family have mortgage protection.

The money from a life insurance policy usually goes right into the hands of your beneficiaries – not the bank or mortgage lender. Your beneficiaries are whoever you choose to receive the benefit or money from your policy after you die.

Life insurance policies, like term life insurance, come with a death benefit. A death benefit is the amount of money given to your beneficiaries after you die. The exact amount they’ll receive depends on the policy you buy.

With term life insurance, you’re covered for a set period, such as 10, 15, 20 or 30 years. The premium – that’s the monthly or annual fee you pay for insurance – is usually low for the first term.

If you die while you’re coved by your life insurance policy, your beneficiaries will receive a tax-free death benefit. They can then use this money to help pay off the mortgage or for any other reason. So not only is your mortgage protected, but your family will also have funds to cover other expenses that they relied on you to pay.

Mortgage insurance works by paying off the outstanding principal balance of your mortgage, up to a certain amount, if you die.

With mortgage insurance, the money goes directly to the bank or lender to pay off the mortgage – and that’s it. There’s no extra money to cover other expenses, and you don’t get to leave any cash behind to your beneficiaries.

What’s the difference between mortgage insurance and life insurance?

The main difference is that mortgage insurance covers only your outstanding mortgage balance. And, that money goes directly to the bank or mortgage lender, not your beneficiary. This means that there’s no cash, payout or benefit given to your beneficiary. 

With life insurance, however, you get mortgage protection and more. Here’s how it works: every life insurance policy provides a tax-free amount of money (the death benefit) to the beneficiary. The payment can cover more than just the mortgage. The beneficiary may then use the money for any purpose. For example, apart from paying off the mortgage, they can also use the funds from the death benefit to cover:

  • any of your remaining debts,
  • the cost of child care,
  • funeral costs,
  • the cost of child care, and
  • any other living expenses. 

But before you decide between life insurance and mortgage insurance, here are some other important differences to keep in mind:

Who gets the money?

With life insurance, the money goes to whomever you name as your beneficiary.

With mortgage insurance, the money goes entirely to the bank.

Can you move your policy?

With life insurance, your policy stays with you even if you transfer your mortgage to another company. There’s no need to re-apply or prove your health is good enough to be insured.

With mortgage insurance, however, your policy doesn’t automatically move with you if you change mortgage providers. If you move your mortgage to another bank, you’ll have to prove that your health is still good.

Which offers more flexibility, life insurance or mortgage insurance?

With life insurance, your beneficiaries have the flexibility to cover the mortgage balance and more after you die. As the policy owner, you can choose how much insurance coverage you want and how long you need it. And, the coverage doesn’t decline unless you want it to.

With mortgage insurance through a bank, you don’t have the flexibility to change your coverage. In this case, you’re only protecting the outstanding balance on your mortgage.

Do you need a medical exam to qualify? 

With a term life insurance policy from Sun Life, you may have to answer some medical questions or take a medical exam before you’re approved for coverage. Once you’re approved, Sun Life won’t ask for any additional medical information later on.

With mortgage insurance, a bank or mortgage lender may ask some medical questions when you apply. However, if you make a claim after you’re approved, your bank may ask for additional medical information.* At that point, they may discover some conditions that disqualify you from receiving payment on a claim.

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5 common mistakes Canadians make with their mortgages

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This article was created by MoneyWise. Postmedia and MoneyWise may earn an affiliate commission through links on this page.

Since COVID-19 dragged interest rates to historic lows last year, Canadians have been diving into the real estate market with unprecedented verve.

During a time of extraordinary financial disruption, more than 551,000 properties sold last year — a new annual record, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association. Those sales provided a desperately needed dose of oxygen for the country’s gasping economy.

Given the slew of new mortgages taken out in 2020, there were bound to be slip-ups. So, MoneyWise asked four of the country’s sharpest mortgage minds to share what they feel are the mistakes Canadians most frequently make when securing a home loan.

Mistake 1: Not having your documents ready

One of your mortgage broker’s primary functions is to provide lenders with paperwork confirming your income, assets, source of down payment and overall reliability as a borrower. Without complete and accurate documentation, no reputable lender will be able to process your loan.

But “borrowers often don’t have these documents on hand,” says John Vo of Spicer Vo Mortgages in Halifax, Nova Scotia. “And even when they do provide these documents, they may not be the correct documentation required.”

Some of the most frequent mistakes Vo sees when borrowers send in their paperwork include:

  • Not including a name or other relevant details on key pieces of information.
  • Providing old bank or pay statements instead of those dated within the last 30 days.
  • Sending only a partial document package. If a lender asks for six pages to support your loan, don’t send two. If you’re asked for four months’ worth of bank statements, don’t provide only one.
  • Thinking low-quality or blurry files sent by email or text will be good enough. Lenders need to be able to read what you send them.

If you send your broker an incomplete documents package, the result is inevitable: Your mortgage application will be delayed as long as it takes for you to find the required materials, and your house shopping could be sidetracked for months.

Mistake 2: Blinded by the rate

Ask any mortgage broker and they’ll tell you that the question they’re asked most frequently is: “What’s your lowest rate?”

The interest rate you’ll pay on your mortgage is a massive consideration, so comparing the rates lenders are offering is a good habit once you’ve slipped on your house-hunter hat.

Rates have been on the rise lately given government actions to stimulate the Canadian economy. You may want to lock a low rate now, so you can hold onto it for up to 120 days.

But Chris Kolinski, broker at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based iSask Mortgages, says too many borrowers get obsessed with finding the lowest rate and ignore the other aspects of a mortgage that can greatly impact its overall cost.

“I always ask my clients ‘Do you want to get the best rate, or do you want to save the most money?’ because those two things are not always synonymous,” Kolinski says. “That opens a conversation about needs and wants.”

Many of the rock-bottom interest rates on offer from Canadian lenders can be hard to qualify for, come with limited features, or cost borrowers “a ton” of money if they break their terms, Kolinski points out.

Mistake 3: Not reading the fine print

Dalia Barsoum of Streetwise Mortgages in Woodbridge, Ontario, shares a universal message: “Read the fine print. Understand what you’re signing up for.”

Most borrowers don’t expect they’ll ever break their mortgages, but data collected by TD Bank shows that 7 in 10 homeowners move on from their properties earlier than they expect.

It’s critical to understand your loan’s prepayment privileges and the rules around an early departure. “If you exit the mortgage, how much are you going to pay? It’s really, really important,” Barsoum says.

She has seen too borrowers come to her hoping to refinance a mortgage they received from a private or specialty lender, only to find that what they were attempting was impossible.

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