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City officials said the $300-million project would increase traffic delays because a third of the capacity will be cut in a section on the east-west route that carries more than 200,000 cars a day.Mark Blinch/Reuters

The news swept like a tidal wave across the Greater Toronto Area. On March 25, three years of construction repairs would begin on the decaying 60-year-old Gardiner Expressway. City officials said the $300-million project would increase traffic delays because a third of the capacity will be cut in a section on the east-west route that carries more than 200,000 cars a day. There will be lane closures and (worse) traffic jams.

The announcement leaves Torontonians with one question uppermost in their minds:

“Construction stopped on the Gardiner?”




Does anyone have any footage? Anyone record it on their phone?

Is there a record (digital or analog) that would serve as evidence of a unit of terrestrial time when the Gardiner Expressway and its associated thoroughfares, has not been under construction?

The Gardiner has been dressed in bright orange for as long as anyone can remember. It’s decked out like Halloween-meets-Thanksgiving 52 weeks a year. Ten years ago, the city began two years of repairs on the Gardiner Expressway (with two months pause for the 2015 Pan Am Games). This time around we are having three years with time off for the FIFA World Cup of European Rules Football. Back in 2014, the Gardiner was 50 years old and in need of major repair.

Thing haven’t changed much. Jennifer Graham Harkness, the city’s chief engineer, told the media, “The Gardiner Expressway, you know, is 60 years old and it’s time for us to make these major repairs.”

Gardiner Control to Major Repairs.

At present, the work is in the pre-construction phase. A single lane, either eastbound or westbound, will be closed until April 14. What does pre-construction look like? Imagine if an installation artist created a work entitled “Empty Lane with Traffic Bollards.” After that it’s all aboard the Nowhere Expressway as the six-lane Gardiner will be reduced to two lanes in either direction as they add a new traffic system.

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In 2014, the city was working on Gardiner Expressway “Strachan Avenue rehabilitation project.”

Guess where the lane reductions will be occurring this time around?

Why, the stretch between Dufferin Street and Strachan Avenue where, presumably, it will be built on top of the ruins of the old 2014 “Strachan Avenue rehabilitation project.”

It could have been different. In 1979, Toronto Mayor John Sewell suggested commissioning a study into turning the Gardiner between Dowling Avenue and Dufferin Street into a 40-acre housing development. In 1989, there was a pitch to bury the Gardiner and make it an eight-lane route. In 2017, Mayor John Tory wanted to put tolls on the Gardiner, but the provincial government blocked the plan. Now the Gardiner belongs to the province and the Ford government has vowed that there will never be tolls.

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So don’t blame those city workers overseeing the repairs. It’s easy to gripe about delays, but if the city stubbornly refuses to embrace alternatives to the automobile, these repairs are vital. Without them, the Gardiner Expressway will crumble. Toronto isn’t the only major city with an aging expressway. In New York City, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) is a source of constant expense and frustration. In a conversation with Curbed, Sam Schwartz, the city’s former traffic commissioner, summed up the BQE dilemma, “the best analogy is like there’s a cancer within the roadway.”

Sounds familiar. The Gardiner Expressway is old and no matter how many times we “revitalize” it, will keep getting older. Repairs will never end. We’re essentially performing plastic surgery on a corpse. If the city and province is committed to moving most inhabitants by car – which they appear to be – then the Gardiner and all the other highways will be dug up and repaired forever.

So, get used to Gardiner Groundhog Day.

Some critics believe the film’s hero Phil Conner, who is stuck in a time-loop, finally breaks the cycle by undergoing Samsara, the Buddhist cycle of birth and rebirth. Conner surrenders his ego and sense of self and this ability to break free and move forward symbolizes his attainment of nirvana.

Torontonians won’t have it so easy.

Drivers can, however, expect some temporary relief. In honour of God so loving the world, “that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” there will be no closures or lane reductions on the Gardiner Expressway over the 2024 Easter weekend.

Ah the Gardiner Expressway …

To borrow a sentiment from this weekend’s central figure:

“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

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