The long, slow-moving lines of blinkering brake lights that have frustrated commuters travelling into Toronto on the eastbound lanes of the Gardiner Expressway came to an end Sunday as Mayor John Tory unveiled the city's new exit ramp – designed to ease congestion and free up poorly used green space.
The ramp at Lower Simcoe Street is only a fraction of the length of the old, dilapidated York/Bay/Yonge exit ramp, which meandered for more than a kilometre and occupied prime public space on the city's waterfront. Demolition of the old ramp began last April, leaving eastbound drivers with only two options – Spadina Avenue and Jarvis Street – for exiting into the city's core. The result was 10 months of heavy traffic at the two remaining exits.
When he unveiled the ramp Sunday, Mayor Tory thanked commuters, as well as the nearby condominium dwellers, for their patience throughout the duration of the $30-million project, which finished according to schedule. "This was a job that needed to be done," Mr. Tory said. "It is exactly the kind of project that makes the city more livable in many different respects."
The ramp, which exits onto Lower Simcoe Street and Harbour Street, is now three lanes wide. It is also the first stretch of roadway owned by the City of Toronto to feature an anti-icing system, complete with a high-tech weather system and temperature sensors. Tiny discs embedded in the asphalt pre-emptively spray anti-icing material onto the road's surface at the first sign of slippery conditions.
The new ramp, however, is just one phase of the project, which was also undertaken to free up the space previously used by the old exit ramp on the north side of Queens Quay West. That grassy patch of land is destined to become a new park. Final plans for the recreational area have not been released.
Harbour Street is also being widened to four lanes. A trail for bicycles and joggers that runs parallel to Harbour Street is expected to be ready this summer. The area will be rid of the shadow from the old elevated ramp, and the city says it will beautify Harbour Street with new trees and planter boxes. "You won't recognize the place, to be honest with you," said Michael D'Andrea, the city's chief engineer.
The future of the Gardiner Expressway has been a hot-button political issue in Toronto for years. The aging expressway's state of disrepair, the city's dense traffic and the expressway's effect on pedestrians – walling them off from the waterfront – has sparked many competing visions for the roadway. In 2016, city council rejected plans to tear down the eastern portion of the Gardiner and replace the elevated road with a boulevard. Instead, a majority of councillors opted for a "hybrid" that will keep a portion of the eastern stretch elevated. The construction of that new stretch of the expressway begins this summer, Mr. Tory said Sunday.