There is no shortage of ideas about how to solve the problem of the crumbling Gardiner Expressway. Among suggestions are to put it all underground, remove the elevated sections or leave it unchanged but create parkland spaces beneath it.
A definitive and committed solution to this important partly elevated access is, however, already overdue given the roadway’s present condition. City engineers have expressed concern that half of the elevated portion is at the point of becoming structurally unstable. In fact, there has been a number of recent incidents of chunks of concrete falling from the expressway, one in which a car was hit, a clear indication of deterioration, in large part because the elevated sections were not designed to withstand the salting process used for winter de-icing.
Little wonder then that repairs are now under way. The feeder that brings a daily line of extended traffic to the city from suburbs east and west of the downtown core and carries it away in the evening is about to receive a repair job that is expected to last five years and cost almost half a billion dollars.
Already, closures for repairs to the eastbound section from Jarvis to Don Roadway began this week and will keep that section closed for the next five months.
Ironically, money is being spent on a piece of the Gardiner that already has Lakeshore Blvd. running parallel beneath it. This is certainly one section which would most likely only require a firm decision from city politicians and vocal public support to be taken down.
But the Gardiner has been showing signs of wear since the 1980s, which is just about the time discussions started regarding what to do with this transportation artery that was completed in 1964, most specifically the elevated sections, for that is where the worst of the deterioration seems to be taking place.
Other compelling objections to the elevated sections are that they cast an awful shadow on the sections of Front Street and Lakeshore beneath and cut off the city’s south end from the lakeshore along that stretch of the elevation. We have also heard questions regarding whether it was prudent to put up condominium buildings within spitting distance of the Gardiner.
The annual cost to maintain the Gardiner is $12 million, including shoring up the most threatened elevated sections. If that amount now going to annual maintenance isn’t a good enough reason to make a concrete decision on what is to be done about the Gardiner, then the $495-million repair project now being launched should be.
While our tax dollars are being spent – some might say wasted – to shore up the Gardiner, city officials are awaiting an environmental assessment that could include taking down elevated sections. But that assessment is not expected for another five years. While we wait, is this current large-scale project the best use of taxpayers’ money? If municipal politicians are willing to agree to inconveniencing motorists for up to five years, couldn’t they inconvenience them with detours while waiting for the report rather than spending money that would be better used on whatever alternative the assessment recommends?
We also have to ask why when the assessment had already been under way before being put on ice in 2008, it would take five years to finish it. Moreover, this discussion has been kicked around for at least 20 years. All this foot dragging and timidity will only increase the eventual cost of what we all know should be done, which is to either follow Boston’s example and put the elevated sections underground or find the optimal location for it, responsive to future transportation and housing demands.
If some of the hesitation has to do with cost to solve the problem – one projection is $1.2 billion – then we need to be talking again about using dedicated toll charges, for example on the Queen Elizabeth West/Gardiner stretch.
We know that the usual practice in the matters of transportation infrastructure is to keep kicking the football farther down the field. But this cannot continue to be our municipal politicians’ best answer.
Along with the still unsettled matter of subway construction for Scarborough and where that funding is going to come from, you can be sure that the matter of the Gardiner Expressway will be front and centre in the 2014 municipal election.