Tearing down part of the Gardiner Expressway inched closer to being a realistic possibility Tuesday, when the budget committee voted to restart a stalled study of the aging highway.
The $7.7-million environmental assessment on what to do with the stretch of the Gardiner east of Jarvis was paused shortly before Mayor Rob Ford took office in 2010. Completing it would be necessary precursor to any major modification of the lakeside road.
At Tuesday's budget meeting, committee chair Councillor Mike Del Grande moved a motion allocating $4.41 million to resurrect the assessment.
"I'm all for a fair and reasonable review," Del Grande said.
The move still has to be approved by council.
Before now, many councillors allied with Mayor Ford have opposed even considering bringing down the Gardiner, a move that they say would revive the so-called "war on the car."
Del Grande still supports a $505-million plan to completely repair the crumbling Gardiner and keep it elevated, but believes it would be unwise not to keep the door open for other options.
Councillor Gord Perks applauded the decision to proceed with the study, but accused the Ford administration and public works chair Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong of trying to sideline it.
"Once again, this administration has cost us precious time, and that costs money," said Perks.
The Parkdale-High Park councillor compared the mothballed assessment to Transit City, the David Miller-era light rail plan Ford unsuccessfully tried to derail.
"Just like Transit City, the administration, without going to council, delayed an important transportation decision and we're getting further and further behind, and gridlock gets worse and worse," said Perks.
Questions remain about why the assessment, which was ordered by council in July 2008, was quietly put on hold in 2010. According to a staff briefing note tabled at budget committee Tuesday, a steering committee led by the president of Waterfront Toronto and the former deputy city manager decided to halt work on it in November 2010, "pending direction from the new council and administration."
Weeks later Ford was sworn in, but the study was never resumed.
According to the briefing note, in March 2011 Minnan-Wong asked staff to draft a letter requesting a report on canceling the assessment. The councillor received the letter and was to present it at Ford's executive committee, but he never did.
On Tuesday Minnan-Wong said that it was his intention to bring the letter to executive committee in order to kill off the Gardiner study. But instead, he claimed, staff decided to quietly pause the assessment.
"I was informed by the former deputy city manager, in consultation with Waterfront Toronto, that they were putting this project on the back burner, and that we had other important business to deal with at that time," he said. "It wasn't necessary to bring it forward."
Current deputy city manager John Livey estimates it will take "a couple of months" to get the assessment up and running, and one to two years to complete. The first step will be to reconvene the steering committee and make public the completed high-level design concepts for three different alternatives for the Gardiner - its replacement, removal, and rehabilitation.
Waterfront Toronto says there are currently no timelines to release the designs, which were commissioned through an international study but were shelved when work on the assessment stopped.
Next week, council will vote on the $505-million Gardiner repair plan as part of the 2013 capital budget. If it is approved, as expected, that wouldn't rule out the possibility of demolishing the eastern arm of the Gardiner sometime before all the repairs are carried out.
Note: This post has been corrected from an earlier version.