New revelations about the deterioration of the Gardiner Expressway set off a fresh round of finger-pointing at City Hall Wednesday, with members of the current and previous administrations blaming each other for the sorry state of Toronto's lakeside highway.
A staff report released Tuesday warns that even if the city makes $35 million in repairs to the section of the Gardiner east of Jarvis, it will last for only six years before its deck needs to be completely replaced, a job that would cost millions and cause massive traffic headaches.
The jarring news comes after a summer that saw chunks of concrete fall from the underside of the 47-year old roadway, and reports that tens of millions of dollars allocated to its upkeep since 2002 appear to have gone unspent.
On Wednesday public works chair Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong said that it was the underspending during Mayor David Miller's tenure that caused the Gardiner to fall into disrepair.
"We've not made the investments in the Gardiner that we should have," he told reporters.
"We didn't have a plan to fix the Gardiner Expressway because the previous administration wasn't investing the money that it needed to get done."
Minnan-Wong is backing a request from city staff to spend $505 million on rehabilitating the highway over the next ten years. Council will vote on the request in January as part of the 2013 capital budget plan.
But Councillor Gord Perks, who was vice-chair of public works under Miller, suggests it's time to think about tearing down at least part of the Gardiner. He demanded to know why an environmental assessment council ordered in 2008 to study demolishing the Gardiner east of Jarvis was halted when Rob Ford was elected mayor.
Perks believes that the Ford administration pressured staff into stopping the assessment, even though doing so went against the express will of council. The councillor says that if study had been completed by now the city would know whether it was more cost-effective to spend millions on repairs or demolish the Gardiner's lesser used eastern section.
"If that work had been completed we would today be in a position to know whether or not we should be rebuilding it or taking part of it down," Perks said. "Because the administration unilaterally cancelled that, we're not in a position to take action today."
Minnan-Wong said that Waterfront Toronto staff decided to suspend the assessment "in consultation with the city of Toronto" after Rob Ford won the 2010 election.
"Given that there was a new mayor elected who was committed to keeping the Gardiner Expressway up - because he spoke about it quite publicly in his platform - Waterfront Toronto was no longer making that a priority," he said.
Minnan-Wong conceded that he had conversations with city staff in which he stated his preference for not tearing down the Gardiner, but couldn't recall if they happened before the assessment was paused.
Asked if the mayor directly intervened to cancel the study, Minnan-Wong said, "I don't know that answer."
More light could be shed on the issue next month. On Wednesday the budget committee requested staff provide a briefing note to its January 8 meeting on why the assessment was cancelled.
Completing the $7.7-million study would be a prerequisite to tearing down the eastern part of the Gardiner. Staff estimate that it could take five years to finish, and after that another three years of design and other preliminary work would be required before demolition of the highway could begin.
By that time, millions of dollars could have already been spent on replacing the deck. Acting director of design and construction John Kelly said that the city intends to start deck replacement east of Jarvis in 2013, with the aim of finishing the job in six years.
However, another report on the Gardiner is expected at the public works committee next March, and council could decide at that time to proceed with the environmental assessment while undertaking only stop-gap repairs on the roadway.
Deputy City manager John Livey said that it is up to council whether to go ahead with the assessment, but he suggested it would be wise to take seriously the idea of demolishing the eastern section eventually.
"It's important I think to identify both the idea and the way you fund it, so that when you arrive at the day when you have to do it you can actually build it," he said.
Livey said it could cost up to $3 billion to bring down the entire elevated section of the Gardiner, but razing only certain sections would cost much less.