The question of what to do with the crumbling Gardiner Expressway is one of the most difficult that Toronto faces. City leaders urgently need to grapple with it. Instead, they spent Wednesday blaming each other for the problem.
Councillor Doug Ford, speaking for the right wing, blamed former mayor David Miller for letting maintenance of the roadway slide. “We all know that the Miller administration had an anti-car agenda,” he told city council’s budget committee. “We are now paying the consequences of their short-sightedness.”
Councillor Gord Perks, on the left, blamed the administration of Mayor Rob Ford for sneaking around council to kill an environmental assessment that would have given councillors the means to make a decision. “This administration doesn’t seem to care about the technical facts, they don’t seem to care about the financial facts and they don’t seem to care about what Torontonians want,” he said.
All very interesting, but …
It is not David Miller’s fault that the Gardiner is crumbling, though, like many governments in many jurisdictions over recent decades, he may have spent less than he should have on the unromantic task of keeping basic infrastructure in good repair.
It is not Rob Ford’s fault either, though it was dumb to cancel the environmental assessment when it was half-done. Waterfront Toronto made that decision because, with the pro-highway Mr. Ford in charge, it apparently saw no merit in a study that was considering whether to tear down the part of the expressway east of Jarvis.
If you want to assign blame for the state of the Gardiner, blame time, water and salt. The expressway was built in the 1950s and 1960s. It is old and its warranty is running out. Water and road salt have infiltrated its surface, causing the reinforcing rods in the concrete to rust and swell and the concrete to crack.
The chunks that keep falling off its underside are only one part of the problem. The roadway, or deck, is in such bad shape that city engineers say they have to accelerate their work to replace it, completing the job in 12 years instead of 20. The city’s 10-year capital plan now calls for spending more than half a billion dollars on the structure by 2022.
Does it make sense to spend all that money on a decaying asset, or should the city look at tearing at least part of it down? Should the city just sell the damned thing to private operators and let them charge tolls to fix it? Should it dig a tolled tunnel to replace the expressway, as even Doug Ford recently suggested?
This is a tough decision, with hundreds of millions, even billions, of dollars on the line. To reach it will require cool heads and impartial study.
Instead, the Gardiner has become the worst kind of political football. To the left, it is a symbol of the hegemony of the evil, polluting automobile. To the right, to talk about tearing even part of it down is a surrender to the bicycle-riding kooks who ran city hall before Rob Ford got elected. When he was running for mayor, Mr. Ford accused his left-wing rivals of plotting to tear down the expressway and vowed to stop them. It is impossible, in such a poisoned atmosphere, to make a rational decision about the Gardiner.
What Toronto needs is not fault-finding and blame games but hard information. Questioned on Wednesday about the expense of tearing down the Gardiner, the city’s deputy manager, John Livey, could only say that it would cost “a billion, two billion, three billion.” What we need to find out is how much the real cost would be and how that would compare to the cost of maintaining the expressway over the coming decades. The first step to that end should be to revive, and even expand, the aborted environmental assessment.
Only then can the city make a reasoned decision on the fraught question of the Gardiner’s future.
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