Mock-up of proposed boulevard to replace the Gardiner.
Tear the sucker down.
City bureaucrats won't come out and say it just yet, but the preliminary results of a new study indicate that razing the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway is the best option to deal with the ageing thoroughfare.
The 50-year-old elevated highway is in bad shape and has begun to crack, periodically sending chunks of concrete onto the roadway below. To determine how best to tackle the problem, in January 2013 councillors voted to restart an environmental assessment that had been paused when Mayor Rob Ford took office.
The assessment, conducted by the city and Waterfront Toronto, examined four options for the section of the Gardiner east of Jarvis: maintaining it as is, making slight improvements to the road configuration, replacing it with another elevated highway, or removing it and replacing it with a ground-level boulevard. Major changes to the western part of the expressway aren't being considered at this time.
Each option was tested on 60 different criteria. Demolition was found to be preferable across the most categories, and the study determined replacing the expressway with new eight-lane boulevard would provide opportunities to make public realm improvements, spur residential and retail development, unlock land value, and create space for cyclists and pedestrians.
At a cost of $470 million to build and operate over the long-term, removal would also be the cheapest option. Replacing the Gardiner with a new highway would be the most expensive at $1.39 billion, while maintaining the status quo would cost $870 million.
The most significant drawback of removal-and what will make it controversial-is that would add between five and 10 minutes to commute times for drivers coming from the northeastern and eastern suburbs.
At a technical briefing for the media at City Hall on Wednesday, Deputy City Manager John Livey said it was too early in the assessment process for him to recommend any of the options. But when a reporter put it to him that the study appeared to show overwhelming support for removing the expressway, Livey agreed that was "an observation anybody in this room would make."
The eastern arm of the Gardiner is the least used part of the highway. At its morning peak traffic period, about 4,500 people an hour use the 2.4-kilometre stretch. Livey said it will be up to council to weigh increased travel times for those drivers against the proposal's many benefits.
"It will mean more transit dependency, it will mean more walking and cycling," he said. "So it is a tradeoff."
The traffic projections for all four options are based on the assumption that that vital transit projects like the relief line, East Bayfront LRT, and improvements to GO service will be completed in the near future.
The assessment findings will be discussed at a public consultation on Thursday, after which staff will make a formal recommendation in a report to the Public Works Committee next month. Council will likely select its preferred option in April.
The issue won't go to a final council vote until the spring of 2015 however, meaning the fate of the Gardiner is likely to be an issue contested in the October election.
Mayor Ford said Wednesday he would oppose any move to demolish the highway, warning that tearing it down would cause "traffic chaos."
"Is there some crumbling? Absolutely. It's an old bridge that needs to have some infrastructure work put into it," said Ford, whose successful 2010 campaign promised to end the 'war on the car.' "Let's clean it up, let's try to beautify it. But I really want to keep the Gardiner."
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, the Public Works Chair, also opposes removal, arguing that the longer commute times would be unduly harsh on drivers.
"I don't know about you [but] when I sit in traffic, that extra 10 minutes getting home to my family, that's a lot of time," he said. He added that more gridlock would also have a negative impact on Toronto's economy.
But Councillor Paula Fletcher, whose ward borders the Gardiner, said she's open to bringing it down.
"The option that's coming up as best for the city overall-for the waterfront, for the finances-is remove," she said. She conceded that "it's not so great if you're somebody who's driving down the DVP every morning," but argued that other residents' needs should to be considered as well.
If the Gardiner were taken down, the assessment proposes replacing it with a downtown-style tree-lined boulevard comparable in size to University Avenue. The area near the highway is the site of five burgeoning residential neighbourhoods, and staff say the new street would open up the former industrial area to retail space, patios and greater pedestrian and cycling activity, as well as allowing for the creation of a network of waterfront parks and trails.
There would be economic benefits as well. The study estimates that demolishing the expressway would create up to 2.8 million square feet of new development, and generate millions of dollars in sales of public land. Maintaining the Gardiner as is would yield no increased economic value.
Both the maintain and remove options would take six years to complete, but removing the Gardiner would be less disruptive, requiring rolling lane closures for three years. Repairing the highway would require demolishing and replacing its deck in sections, resulting in lane closures for six years.