Grappling with the Gardiner Expressway

Originally published on Torontoist on April 2, 2013.

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Top: proposed phasing for rehabilitation of the Gardiner Expressway. Bottom: illustrated cross-section of the elevated portion of the Gardiner. Images courtesy of the City of Toronto.

Drivers, prepare yourselves. Whatever form the Gardiner Expressway takes in the future, be ready for years of construction work and—depending on how the politics unfold—a potential 2014 municipal election issue.

The Gardiner has been grabbing attention at City Hall and in the public over the past few months, after a long series of incidents in which chunks of concrete fell off the aging roadway, forcing emergency repairs. This was compounded as it became clear that the Gardiner was soon going to become structurally unstable, and would need hundreds of millions of dollars in longer-term repairs. And that was compounded even further when it emerged that an environmental assessment examining the future of the Gardiner—including the possibility of taking down the eastern portion of the expressway—had been halted soon after Rob Ford’s election, without announcement or clear direction from council. (It has since been revived.)

In the wake of all that, at a technical briefing at City Hall on Tuesday, City staff and representatives from Waterfront Toronto and other associated agencies outlined a set of recommendations for handling the Gardiner as that environmental assessment unfolds. The key change they are proposing to the $505 million 10-year plan: have deck-replacement work begin at the west end of the elevated section instead of the east. This appears to be a money-saving option to accommodate the possibility that council might ultimately decide to tear down the eastern portion of the road.

The proposal envisions construction starting near Strachan Avenue next year; work would be completed through to Rees Street by 2019. Work between Jarvis and the Don Roadway would begin at the latest in 2020—though what exactly that means will depend on the results of the now-resumed EA and what course council decides to pursue. That assessment is examining four alternatives for council to consider:

  • Maintain the status quo for the Gardiner by patching it up;
  • Maintain the existing length of roadway and improve the urban landscape around it;
  • Build a new above- or below-grade expressway;
  • Full removal of the entire elevated section east of Jarvis.

The preliminary EA findings should be ready in the spring of 2014; staff today said the plan is for council to select one of the above options then. Once council makes that decision, more consultations will be held before the EA is submitted to the Ontario Ministry of the Environment for final approval.

The 2020 construction start date for that portion of the roadway is viewed as a worst-case scenario—there is hope the EA could be completed and approved more quickly.

To cover all contingencies, staff is developing a detailed plan for conducting repairs on both the eastern and western portions of the road; that plan is expected by the end of 2013. In the meantime, an estimated $9 million of interim repair work will be undertaken on the eastern section, and five supporting structures west of Strachan known as “bents” will also be rehabilitated.

Many of the questions following the presentations revolved around cost specifics, which will be determined as the plans are worked out, and concerns about the highway’s short-term viability. If the City begins with work on the western portion of the road, will the eastern end last another six years? When pressed, Deputy City Manager John Livey admitted that “we may be getting to a point where we need to act soon.”

Staff’s new proposal will be considered by the public works committee next week. And as staff discussed their plan today, there was a definite sense that council will be pressured to make their final decision by next spring, lest dragging it out any longer transform the Gardiner into an election issue.

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