TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's biggest city is starting work on a tunnel that will eliminate the need for a short ferry ride to its downtown island airport, promising an extra draw to travelers seeking quick access to Toronto's business core.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the pedestrian link, to be operational by 2014, would help give Toronto's Billy Bishop Airport the service it deserves.
"Toronto is a world class city, and airports in world class cities must provide world class service," Harper told an event on Friday marking the start of construction.
"Much as we all like the ferries, and I have all kinds of great memories riding them as a boy, lining up for one when you are rushing for a plane does not qualify as world class ... Business travelers are going to love this tunnel for its ease and the access it gives to corporate towers."
The ferry to and from Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, named after a World War One flying ace, theoretically runs every 15 minutes, but it is often delayed. It's just a five-minute ride.
The small island airport is the main hub for privately owned short-haul carrier Porter Airlines, with some flights by private planes and by Air Canada. It served nearly 1.6 million passengers in 2011, a 50-fold increase from 2006.
The tunnel is expected to cost C$82.5 million ($83.3 million), all of it to come from private funds. "It will not cost the taxpayers a dime," Harper said.
The ferry, the only auto link with the island, will continue to run, both as an alternative for passengers who prefer not to walk and as access for deliveries and other services to residents at the other end of the small island.
Reporting By Claire Sibonney; Editing by Janet Guttsman