The Gardiner Expressway is of significant value to Toronto, yet the cost to maintain it, as ever-increasing traffic demands, continues to create major problems for the bean counters at Toronto City Council.
Even after much debate about whether or not to keep the east-west thoroughfare that follows the shoreline of Lake Ontario exclusively above ground, there are still many unaddressed issues with which to wrestle. Thus, City Council was in debate again this week about how to handle the cost of maintaining the Gardiner.
It would have been ideal to hand over responsibility for the Gardiner to the province. The argument that it functions more as a provincial roadway than a municipal one has some merit given that a significant portion of the users are travelling from areas outside of Toronto. The Gardiner in effect allows access to the city for those beyond its borders and is an important artery for those working in the city who commute to and from bedroom communities.
Any user of both provincial and municipal highways would already know provincially maintained roadways are for the most part in much better condition. Nevertheless, the discussion may already be moot, given that the province has not entered into the debate and shows no interest in doing so. It has its own transportation infrastructure funding challenges.
There are those who see the Gardiner becoming a source for its own revenue stream. No matter how long it takes for City Council to come around to this decision, the implementation of tolls along the Gardiner may have to become a reality.
With the culture at Council favouring endless debate and consolation, monies that could be gained for the maintenance of the roadway would instead be wasted doing more feasibility studies. Instead, what we need are bold steps.
Mayor John Tory needs to have a larger vision for the city; he needs to have a clearer view of the big picture. So far, he has just been tinkering. Threatening to drive a tow truck to alleviate traffic congestion may make good copy for the morning newspapers but it doesn’t help solve the larger issue of the need for improved traffic infrastructure, for example.
The Gardiner presents Toronto with just such a point of focus. Commuters are already willing to suffer the inconvenience of getting the long-awaited Eglinton line extension underway. There would certainly be support for moving forward with a bold vision for the Gardiner Expressway. A tunnel consortium led by Aecon Group is showing that it can be done.
The recent decision to keep the eastern end of the Gardiner, with minor modifications, shows how timid municipal decision-makers are about taking bold steps. But, if city politicians would bring a clear and reasonable argument to the public to show what benefits lay ahead from taking bold steps, they could very well win the support of Torontonians to move the Gardiner from its current state to something for which this city can be proud.
Tory has already expressed support for public-private partnerships concerning the Gardiner. The promise of public-private partnerships is what swayed his support of only minor modifications at the eastern section of the roadway. Perhaps, private support for burying the Gardiner will also carry weight. Certainly the executive committee at City Hall believes so, having voted on it and the tunnel consortium already exists. Convincing the rest of council may be another matter.
The hope for many who are hamstrung by the current inadequacy of the Gardiner, which carries close to 400,000 vehicles daily, may lie in knowing that the push for a Gardiner tunnel is not dead. At an estimated $6 billion as projected by the consortium, additional lanes to be constructed below sections of the Gardiner and also Front Street are still a possibility.
All we need now is for City Council to stop dithering and see the big picture.