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Mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat speaks to the media following a live debate in Toronto on Sept. 25, 2018.Tijana Martin

Toronto mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat has reopened the debate about the future of the eastern end of the Gardiner Expressway, pledging to replace it with a boulevard instead of following city council’s 2015 decision to rebuild the elevated thoroughfare.

"It is a decaying, old structure that's a relic of the past," Ms. Keesmaat told reporters on Sunday, saying that tearing down the expressway would open up city land for other uses near the waterfront.

She said her proposal to replace the expressway would cost half of the $1-billion price tag committed to overhaul and maintain the elevated structure.

Previous cost scenarios unveiled when council looked at the two options in 2015 estimated replacing the roadway would have a $461-million price tag while keeping the Gardiner, a move dubbed the hybrid option, would require $919-million or more depending on the designs.

The 2015 detailed costing would need to be readjusted but “in any scenario it would cost significantly less to build infrastructure on the ground than to rebuild it in the sky,” Ms. Keesmaat said.

How to deal with the decaying eastern part of the Gardiner Expressway had been one of the major points of friction between Mayor John Tory and Ms. Keesmaat during her stint as city planner.

Mr. Tory’s re-election campaign said Ms. Keesmaat’s bid to scrap the eastern Gardiner would slow traffic and divert trucks onto nearby residential streets.

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Ms. Keesmaat committed to replace the crumbling portion of the eastern Gardiner with a grand boulevard, seen here in a rendering.Handout/ Jennifer Keesmaat

"This is going to make our quality of life and our economy suffer because more people are going to be stuck in their cars for longer and good and services won’t be able to get where they need to go," Keerthana Kamalavasan, a spokeswoman for Mr. Tory, said in a written statement.

The city’s environmental assessment estimated that removing the Gardiner would add a few minutes of commute time for a small group of drivers. Mr. Tory has cited another study that forecasts delays as high as 10 minutes for some people.

The difference in commute time would be “minuscule” in comparison with the benefits of having a boulevard with waterfront development, Ms. Keesmaat said on Sunday. The $500-million savings could be reinvested into public transit, she added.

The Tory campaign statement noted the city would incur financial penalties because it already awarded a $313-million contract for the rehabilitation of the Gardiner Expressway between Jarvis and Cherry streets.

The Tory campaign also tried to portray Ms. Keesmaat as having flip-flopped, pointing to a March, 2016, tweet in which, as city planner, she wrote that “New gardiner hybrid improves waterfront access, redevelopment.”

At the time, council had already committed to keeping the Gardiner. Ms. Keesmat’s tweet alluded to the city endorsing the Hybrid 3 option, which would have pushed the roadway further away from the waterfront, opening up more land for sales.

With files from Caroline Alphonso

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