A long overdue decision by Toronto City Council on the fate of the lesser used eastern section of the Gardiner Expressway is set for the coming month and Mayor John Tory has already made it known that his preference is to see the elevated section of the expressway remain. Tory has settled on what has become known as the hybrid option, in which part of the expressway would be rerouted between Jarvis St. and the Don Valley Parkway. Detractors are already lining up.
At this point, we are more concerned that a decision, any decision, be made regarding the crumbling construction which costs almost $37 million annually to shore up. Better yet, tear it down.
The matters that need to be properly addressed concern traffic flow and travel times, economic advantages and disadvantages, development prospects, city-building benefits and opportunities and long-term costs.
In fact, the $919 million for capital and long-term operating and maintenance costs for the hybrid option that includes consideration of 1.7 kilometres in the eastern sector, is more expensive at almost twice the cost of bringing that section of the roadway to ground level. That option would however cost some drivers an additional 10 minutes of being stuck in traffic.
We know current traffic along the Gardiner is at least part of this city’s traffic problem, costing some $9 billion annually in lost productivity. Even going ahead with the hybrid decision will inconvenience drivers while construction takes place.
During rush hour, close to 10 per cent of motorists flowing through Toronto use the Gardiner. The eastern end now being considered has a volume of some 120,000 each day. And, it is a key thoroughfare during sports events at the Rogers Centre, Air Canada Centre and BMO Field at the Canadian National Exhibition grounds.
Let’s face it, no one decision will appease all the interested parties on what to do about the Gardiner. Any decision, whether to leave it and keep pumping in millions annually for repair, burying it as a tunnel or the hybrid option, will leave some feeling displeased.
Certainly, the people who live in the ward where that disputed 1.7 km section exists are in support of keeping it, because they see it as saving them travel time.
Yet, leaving it as it is cannot be an option. Not when chunks of concrete continue to fall onto the roadway beneath. Spending to continually shore up the crumbling construction is highly impractical and must resolutely be rejected.
The Gardiner is a city owned roadway, therefore the cost to maintain it or redevelop it rests with taxpayers, yet a large proportion of the users of the roadway are not Toronto residents. This is why financing the cost to maintain the roadway should include toll fees, regardless of what decision is made about what to do going forward.
Moving the section under consideration to street level will be more cost efficient and will appeal to those advocating for more pedestrian friendly conversion.
At the same time, development of what is now a dead zone has to be an important consideration as the city’s population continues to grow.
We know that developers such as Unilever are very interested in having a more accessible model in place, but residential development must also be built in this planning. Accommodating business has to be taken into account, but city council’s decision has to include finding a way to pay for the Gardiner so that it will not continue to be a tax burden to Torontonians who are paying more into maintaining the roadway than they are getting back in productivity and use of it.
Discussion of what to do about the Gardiner has been ongoing for more than two decades and is long overdue. A secret order to stop the environmental assessment during the controversial Ford tenure has further delayed any informed decision by City Council. We are also concerned that a final decision would be further delayed by councillors who are more parochial in their grasp of the matter, seeking to narrowly focus on voices in their neighbourhoods rather than what is in the interest of the city as a whole. Certainly, one of the biggest reasons for the delay in a decision has to be concern about where to find the money to pay for the needed conversion. We have the answer: tolls, tolls, tolls.