The big enemy of the Gardiner Expressway is the kind of winter we are currently experiencing – freezing temperatures, when asphalt contracts and cracks, and road salt gets through the cracks and results in corrosion and weakening of the steel reinforcements.
The big enemy of motorists who use the roadway may be the politics that led to a decision to suspend the environmental assessment study on what to do about the deteriorating roadway, specifically the 2.4 kilometre section running east of Jarvis Street to Logan Avenue. This is part of the same section on which millions have been allocated by Toronto City Council to bring it to a state of good repair.
The best guess for the life of the current elevated sections of the Gardiner is a decade, by which time it will then have to be completely repaired at a cost of $600 million or whatever that amount would finally be in future dollars. Or, by which time city planners and politicians will have found another answer.
If it weren’t for the fact that concrete has been falling from elevated sections – with at least six reports of concrete falling from the structure in 2012 and 72 calls for repairs in March 2013 alone – then the urgency would not be so keenly felt. Engineering consultants have also warned that there are weaknesses in the roadway decking that could result in vehicles breaking through.
City politicians are putting their faith in the ongoing patch job by construction engineers, including using wood bracings to hold under potions in place. But what would be their answer if someone is injured, or worse, from falling concrete or if a vehicle should break through the decking and end up on the roadway below? Why does everything that affects the infrastructure of this city have to take decades before shovels finally go into the ground, especially when there are reasonable solutions?
This issue comes down to a question of how to best serve motorists and other people in this city. The other critical matters are cost effectiveness and economic impact. For a budget conscious council, saving money on the Gardiner, the $12 million budget for annual maintenance and the additional $495 million, five-year repair program now under way, has to be weighed against the loss of productivity that results from overcrowded roadways.
Bearing that in mind, at a cost saving, city staff will recommend to the Public Works Committee that the east end be taken down and replaced with an eight-lane thoroughfare. Committee chair Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong rejects the idea, believing this would increase time on the road. Yet, how much more time will be lost over the next decade while sections of the Gardiner have lanes reduced for more patching to be done? Lakeshore Blvd East runs beneath that section of the Gardiner and widening it to eight lanes would save money over time when compared to the constant patching of the Gardiner.
Better to use whatever savings can be made from taking down the east end to find an answer for the west side of the Gardiner which receives a much greater flow of the share of traffic than the average 4000 cars per day from the east. So, yes, the time for some motorists coming from the east may be compromised but it has to be weighed against a city budget that still has to address other infrastructure demands including increasing public transit lines to the peripheries of the city, which should surely result in fewer cars into the downtown core eventually.
Along with freeing up money for other demands, with that section of the overpass removed, a number of sites east of Jarvis Street, which now feel like dead space, could be revitalized with more urban housing and commercial development. In addition, any plan to beautify the area would have added benefits for the city.
City beautification projects have an impact. It drives development, including business growth and the city’s livability quotient, which then attracts more business.
It seems some people are attached to the Gardiner, for better or worse, the same way some are attached to streetcars, despite related inconveniences. But with an eye to the future, removing this section, at least, has to be seen as a step in the right direction.