The possible teardown of sections of the crumbling Gardiner Expressway is back on the city’s agenda, with the injection of $4.4-million in new funding to restart a study on the aging highway.
The controversial plan to demolish the expressway east of Jarvis Street is the subject of an $8-million environmental assessment that was quietly shelved by staff during the past municipal election. With staff now estimating it will cost more than half-a-billion dollars to fix the raised expressway, a growing number of councillors are questioning the wisdom of putting the report on hold.
Toronto’s budget committee approved the funds Tuesday to revive the EA, a move that requires the approval of the Mayor’s executive committee later this week and then council. It is the latest project from the past administration to get a second chance and follows a year when the city scrambled to react after a series of concrete chunks fell from the expressway.
“It’s like a bad horror movie isn’t it?” said the public works chair Denzil Minnan-Wong when asked about the resurrection of the Gardiner report.
New information released Tuesday shows Councillor Minnan-Wong took steps in March 2011 to debate killing the Gardiner EA at the mayor’s executive committee, but the matter was never publicly discussed. Staff prepared and delivered a letter to him on the implications of cancelling or modifying the EA, but he did not tabled that information.
Asked Tuesday about the decision to put the matter on hold without debate, Mr. Minnan-Wong, a member of the executive committee, said the decision was make “by a number of parties.”
“It was suggested by the public service and Waterfront Toronto, and the mayor’s office agreed to it as well as the chair of public works,” he said. “My intention when I asked for the letter was to bring it forward to executive to kill it. We had a number of discussions about this and it was decided to put it on the back burner.”
Councillor Gord Perks, a member of the public works committee who is frequently critical of the mayor, accused the Ford administration of trying to make important transportation decisions “by stealth.”
“The politicians from the mayor’s side sat on this and cost the city precious time while the Gardiner continued to crumble,” he said.
Even with the new funding, staff estimated it will be six to nine years before work on the study is completed and changes to the roadway – including its possible dismantling – are completed.
John Campbell, head of Waterfront Toronto, the agency responsible for revitalizing the city’s downtown lakeshore told The Globe and Mail last month that his staff could restart work on the dormant study within weeks of getting the okay from council.
If council gives the green light to dust off the study, he estimated it would take two years to complete it and another six to 12 months for it to get provincial approval, if there are no strong objections to the plan.
Mr. Minnan-Wong said his fear is that reviving the study will compound the city’s traffic problems. “My worry is that there will be those who want to tear down part of the Gardiner Expressway and replace it with something that moves traffic less efficiently and will add to congestion and gridlock,” he said.
Before the study was halted, Waterfront Toronto was preparing to release six preliminary designs of the expressway east of Jarvis, the results of an international competition that attracted big-name talent, including the firm of Dutch starchitect Rem Koolhaas.
Councillor Pam McConnell asked Tuesday that those designs be made public as part of the relaunch of the Gardiner study.