Toronto is one step closer to building a pedestrian tunnel linking the city to the island airport.

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Construction of a tunnel to Toronto's island airport is expected to begin next year after council approved the plan. ((Dwight Friesen/CBC))

Council approved a partnership Thursday night between the city and the Toronto Port Authority that will see the two sides work together on the plan for Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.

Under the plan, which council approved 24 to 13, the port authority gains access to city land to build the underwater tunnel. The city in turn would use the tunnel construction to concurrently upgrade sewer and water infrastructure, saving it some $10 million.

The Port Authority, a federal government agency, also waived the standard commercial fees for use of the tunnel, representing an additional $5 million in savings to the city over the next 20 years.

Currently, travellers must take a ferry ride, which lasts less than two minutes, to the small commuter airport which sees some one million passengers pass through the terminal yearly.

A report earlier this year concluded that the tunnel will save passengers about four minutes waiting time before their flights, compared with using the ferry.  

$60 million cost

"This kind of agreement is important, because it shows what public agencies can accomplish when they work together to come up with innovative solutions," said TPA Board Chairman Mark McQueen.

The tunnel is expected to cost about $60-million. Construction is set to begin in 2012 and is expected to wrap up two years later.

The TPA will front the costs of the construction, but is expected to gain back the funds through airport user fees.

The plan still must receive clearance from the federal government.

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Passengers queue for the ferry from Billy Bishop Airport. ((Kimberly Gale/CBC))

A fixed link to the airport has been a contentious issue for almost a decade. Council under former mayor David Miller scuttled plans to construct a bridge to the island in 2003.

Community groups have also voiced their criticism of the link, questioning whether the tunnel is needed at all.

Adam Vaughan, the councillor for the ward adjacent to the tunnel, was skeptical of the deal.

"The deal does nothing to resolve the impact the airport is having on the residents that I represent," he said.  

"We couldn't get a bridge so we're getting the next best thing, we're getting a tunnel," Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong, public works committee chair, said after the vote.