Gardiner Expy. on road to ruin


Big Daddy needs some new legs.

Each day, more than 110,000 vehicles use the eastern extension of the Gardiner Expressway from Jarvis St. to the Don Valley Pkwy., creating more wear and tear as drivers crawl onto the highway or trickle out onto Lake Shore Blvd. E.

Nearly five decades since the “superhighway” was opened in 1964, sections of the connecting vein are crumbling and basketball-sized chunks of concrete are breaking off the elevated expressway farther west toward Spadina Ave.

City engineers warn the Gardiner will not be safe to drive in six years and the deck east of Jarvis St. is nearing the end of its life.

“Significant delays (in repairs) beyond six years will translate into the current deck not being usable,” staff for the City of Toronto wrote in a report released to politicians last year.

One thing is certain: Toronto needs to decide the fate of the eastern extension – and fast.

To that end, the city and Waterfront Toronto are undertaking a $4.4-million environmental assessment of the eastern extension as city council prepares to consider four options early in 2014.

The decision won’t come easy, however, as public interest groups, councillors and residents scrimmage over which option serves the city best.

Faye Lyons, of the Canadian Automobile Association, South Central Ontario, said, “It’s important we meet the timelines because the Gardiner Expwy. is deteriorating. It does need the necessary $500 million to rehabilitate for safety reasons.”

Lyons is a full supporter of the first option: Maintain the current structure.

This is also known as the “do nothing” approach by keeping up on regular maintenance. It would cost $235 million, to be paid with funds from the city’s 10-year capital plan and three additional years of funding.

“CAA supports the maintain option as the preferred option because it will not increase traffic congestion by not reducing lanes on the Gardiner Expwy.,” Lyons said.

“Reducing capacity on the Gardiner would force more commuters onto arterial roads, putting the safety of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians at risk and this would have an enormous impact, not only on the GTA’s economy in road congestion, but also on the quality of life for Toronto residents,” she added.

The second option is to improve the freeway. This would involve maintaining the Gardiner as is but updating the “urban fabric” to improve the streetscape by adding more trees and including a bike lane on Lake Shore that would take away two lanes of traffic. This robust option would cost $420 million to $630 million.

Option three would be replacement. The existing expressway would be replaced by two options – one elevated or one buried. Burying that stretch – from Jarvis St. to east of the DVP – is the most expensive of the four options at $2.5-billion. City staff and Waterfront Toronto are not recommending this option.

“It’s in the order of about two-and-half times more expensive than the next most expensive option,” said Chris Glaisek, Waterfront Toronto vice-president of planning and design.

The fourth option is to remove the eastern stretch. The Gardiner would be torn down and replaced by a new boulevard – with streetscaping from Jarvis St. to just west of Cherry St. – of eight to 10 lanes. This would cost $240-million to $360-million.

Public works and infrastructure chair Denzil Minnan-Wong said he has not made a decision on which of the four choices is best, however, it will be based on his two main principles: cost and mitigating traffic headaches.

“It has to be affordable,” Minnan-Wong said. “We need a balanced approach to moving traffic in the city. We have to make a decision because we need to fix the east.”

For full rehabilitation of the Gardiner Expwy. (from Spadina Ave. west to Strachan Ave.), the city has allocated $500 million over 10 years. Because the Gardiner job would take up to 13 years to complete, the city could expected to spend another $170 million over three years, for an estimated total of $670 million.

The city continues to work on “interim repairs,” but its giant slate of work will officially begin next year from the western parts to the east.

The city is spending $9.1 million right now on interim repairs to the eastern stretch of the highway, including strengthening and shoring the decks to extend their life.

Mayor Rob Ford previously voiced his support for maintaining the Gardiner.

“We’ve got to maintain the Gardiner,” he said in June. “We’ve got to invest money in the Gardiner.”

Councillor Adam Vaughan said the best thing to do is sell off the Gardiner and make it a toll road.

“I still think a lease or a contract on it to help finance the changes, but to also pay for transit is fundamentally a smart option to explore,” Vaughan said. “That can happen with any of the options. But if we are going to keep it up, the repair bill should be paid by people who use the expressway and I think that’s a fair proposition.”

Vaughan said he is “nervous” about bringing down the Gardiner if it means replicating the car capacity at grade and further separating the city from its waterfront.

“The downtown area there is so profoundly congested that adding more cars at surface is just going to make it more chaotic and more ridiculous,” he said. “We’re trying to build a waterfront city and that means you stop industrializing the waterfront. I think we’ve learned to live with the Gardiner. It leaves you to the conclusion that leaving it up is the only option. Burying it would be a nightmare.”

Ryerson civil engineering professor Dr. Lamya Amleh said any option to maintain the structure is a bandage solution.

“It’s just going to postpone the pain for later,” said Amleh, who wants an underground tunnel built.

“Any fix is going to affect our future,” he said. “We’re the fastest growing population, so we have to really project how much loading we’re going to have. It’s going to be much more costly than doing $2.5 billion now.”

Despite the chosen option, Glaisek said any choice will be “a massive construction job.”

“What we want to get out of this is a decision and then we can move forward with revitalization,” he added. “Until there is an agreed-upon solution, we can’t really deal with improving those north-south connections from the downtown to the waterfront. It’s a topic about which many people feel strongly. This is a city-wide decision and we need to make it collectively.”

Waterfront Toronto and the city are still looking at start and end dates for the eastern stretch. They want to get approval on their environmental assessment by 2015 and start work on the preferred option at that time.

City transportation manager Steve Buckley said interim repairs being done “should extend the Gardiner from six to eight years.

“If at any point we would deem it unsafe, we would shut it down to the motoring public,” said Buckley. “Whatever the selected alternative is, we have time to design a package so that we can be under construction on that section.”

The Toronto Taxpayers’ Coalition said it isn’t prepared to choose one option over another because it’s not something members have studied in-depth. It hopes that whatever happens, there’s vision behind it.

“Whatever decision the city does take, we hope that they take that decision with a vision for 50 years from now,” said coalition president Matt McGuire.

“Highway 401 and the Gardiner, when they were built, the city of Toronto looked vastly different than it does today,” said McGuire. “Let’s plan for the future. That’s something Toronto hasn’t been doing well the past several decades.


Ex-mayors have long chimed in on what they believe the Gardiner Expwy. should be.

During his time at City Hall, former mayor David Miller’s plan was to tear the highway down.

This coincided with Waterfront Toronto’s 2008 proposal to demolish the eastern section of the Gardiner and construction of a widened Lake Shore Blvd. E. at a cost of $200 to $300 million.

Miller noted funds for the demolition and eight-lane boulevard would come from monies saved by not going ahead with the Front St. extension, plus money saved on maintenance of the elevated highway.

“I think council made a significant step towards building a 21st century city,” Miller said in July 2008, after winning a vote for an $11-million environmental assessment to take down that eastern portion. “There is a tremendous opportunity for this city on the waterfront.”

In 2002, then-mayor Mel Lastman cast serious doubts about the city’s ability to go ahead with a controversial, $3.3-billion scheme to bury the Gardiner Exwy.

He expressed concern about the lack of a business case to support the project.

“You’re talking about almost $3 billion or over $3 billion … to bury it and it doesn’t make sense. And if you bury it, what have you got around it? Nothing but tracks,” Lastman said.

Again, this was about waterfront redevelopment. That year, city staff proposed tearing down the Gardiner and replacing it with a four-lane, three-kilometre-long tunnel, an improved Lake Shore Blvd. and a new waterfront transit line.

“I don’t prefer for it to stay up, but I don’t have the money, either,” Lastman said at the time. “We don’t have the money, the people of Toronto don’t have the money and I’m not going to put this city into bankruptcy.”

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