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The Globe and Mail

City council divided on tearing down Gardiner expressway

Traffic piles up on the Gardiner Expressway as commuters head home during the evening rush hour in Toronto, Ont. March 14/2011.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

The future of Toronto's crumbling Gardiner Expressway is about to become the topic of another lengthy debate on how best to keep the city moving, with no shortage of opinions from councillors about what should be done.

One day after the release of a staff report that recommends tearing down the elevated highway east of Jarvis Street and stresses the need for a quick decision because of its sorry state – councillors continued to put new options on the table.

Councillor David Shiner said rather than tear it down, the city should double the Gardiner's capacity by building a second deck. Councillor Peter Milczyn favours building a new elevated highway to the north near the railway corridor and charging tolls to pay for the construction.

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Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly held a news conference at which he likened the roadway to an artery that feeds the beating heart of the city, saying Toronto cannot cut that artery until others are in place, such as the proposed downtown relief subway line and new roads.

Earlier this week, mayoral candidate Councillor Karen Stintz floated a "hybrid solution" that would involve a redesigned link between the Don Valley and the Gardiner while removing the elevated section east of Jarvis Street.

In the report, which is scheduled to go to committee next week, staff seek direction from council at its April meeting, with final approval in 2015. Getting a binding decision on such a controversial topic in an election year will be difficult, and even if a vote is taken, Mr. Milczyn said the final decision will rest with the next council.

"Council has a history of dithering instead of doing the right thing, the bold thing," said Mr. Milczyn, who wants to defer a decision for 18 to 24 months to give staff time to study options, including the feasibility of replacing the highway with an improved and reconfigured toll road.

Just as with the back-and-forth between light rail and subways during this term of council, Mr. Milczyn pointed out that any decision made before the election could be reversed by "a new council and new mayor."

"If the council did make a decision one way or another, it could very easily be overturned 10 months from now," he said.

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the public works committee, questions whether, given the present state of the Gardiner, the city can wait for more reports before deciding on a course of action.

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"There seems to be as much gridlock on this issue at council as there would be if we tore down the Gardiner," he said.

Without an obvious method to finance a replacement, he said the best choice is to maintain the highway.

In an attempt to break the impasse, Mr. Kelly, Councillor Michael Thompson and Mr. Minnan-Wong will hold a roundtable on Friday with business leaders and other groups and associations interested in the future of the roadway, the deputy mayor's office confirmed.

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