The city has stopped planning for the future, and if you want proof, check last week's news that Waterfront Toronto has put a halt to any possibility of taking down part of the Gardiner Expressway.[briefbrea]
This fact surfaced in discussions of the cost of repairs to the expressway, when it was revealed that the agency had quietly put off the Environmental Assessment process authorized by council and the province in 2008.
There is now zero work being done to further a project supported by Royal Commissions, task forces and most prominent urban thinkers, including Jane Jacobs - presumably due to edicts from our chief magistrate.
Right from its creation in the 50s, the highway cut Parkdale off from the lake and destroyed vibrant neighbourhoods, while it mostly ran through industrial lands to the east. That's no longer true: a solid row of condos now lines the central part of elevated highway, and massive waterfront development is in progress.
Arguments for the expressway's takedown gained traction in the 80s, when expensive repairs were starting to become urgent. Then, in the 90s, demolition was presented as a serious option: the Crombie Commission and the Lake Shore-Gardiner Task Force both suggested it, as did the Royal Commission on the Future of the Toronto Waterfront.
And now, considering that the cost of maintaining the highway is estimated to be at least $15 million annually for the next 10 years, or over $150 million, restarting the stalled Environmental Assessment seems the most fiscally prudent thing to do. After all, EAs examine all the options, including doing nothing.
The Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Task Force estimated in 2006 that it would cost just under $1.5 billion to bury the expressway. With construction costs going up 4 to 5 per cent a year, the tally today would likely be between $2 and $2.5 billion.
In a city with a long infrastructure wish list, this may not be a good use of limited transportation funds. Relatively few (80,000 to 100,000) cars use the Gardiner daily compared to the 450,000 that use the 401 or the 480,000 people who travel through the TTC's Bloor/Yonge station.
Tunnelling would be technically difficult, too, leading to higher unexpected costs. The expressway goes mostly through lake fill, so it would be like building a tunnel in open water. Other potential challenges include a storm sewer just west of Fort York and another under Portland.
Similarly, a high-voltage electrical line under Strachan and a filtered water intake pipe for the John pumping station would need to be worked around or moved. And we shouldn't forget the underground streetcar line running under lower Bay, among other obstacles.
All this suggests a more incremental approach may make more sense.
In May 2008, Waterfront Toronto proposed the removal of a segment of the Gardiner from Jarvis to the Don, and the construction of a widened Lake Shore in a form similar to that of University. They suggested it would cost a much more reasonable $200 to $300 million (around $260 to $380 million today).
The cost of going one step further and removing the expressway east of Spadina was estimated in 2000 at $758 million, likely closer to $1.2 billion today, which is why this expanded vision might also need to wait for another day.
The Jarvis-to-Don removal offers the most benefits relative to cost, because the eastern waterfront is now being developed in the regions of East Bayfront and Lower Don Lands. This section of the Gardiner also has the fewest users - around 20,000 cars (each way). These can easily be accommodated on a wide road that, properly designed, would improve access and save us millions in maintenance costs a year.
Our waterfront is an incredible asset, so getting the Gardiner right is worth the effort.