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Toronto’s draft 2013 budget calls for $505-million to repair and rebuild the Gardiner Expressway.Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

To tear it down, or not to tear it down – that is the question about a section of Toronto's iconic Gardiner Expressway that is in such poor shape it will be unsafe to drive on in six years unless it is ripped out and rebuilt.

New revelations about the deteriorating state of the Gardiner Expressway have prompted Toronto's transportation bureaucrats to explain, in their clearest language yet, that time is running out for the crucial downtown artery, especially east of Jarvis Street.

The options, they say, are limited: Spend $210-million over 10 years to replace that part of the expressway, or dole out more than $35-million in timber bracing, deck patching and wall repair to keep it aloft while the city examines tearing down the two-kilometre stretch altogether, an undertaking pegged at $300-million back in 2008.

But it may already be too late for councillors and Torontonians to get the information they need to make a decision on the Gardiner's future.

A feasibility study looking into demolishing the Gardiner east of Jarvis was quietly shelved after Mayor Rob Ford was elected on a vow to end the "war on the car."

Nobody will say precisely why the $7.7-million environmental assessment was put "on hold" two years ago.

The mayor's office denies ordering it halted, while the president of Waterfront Toronto – the agency that was conducting the assessment – says that a steering committee he co-chaired decided to press the pause button while waiting for the new Ford administration to offer an opinion that never came.

"This administration, just like with [light-rail plan] Transit City, is trying to make billion-dollar decisions without the advice of Toronto city council or Torontonians," said Councillor Gord Perks, an opponent of the mayor. "It's not the right way to build a transportation infrastructure we can rely on."

The mayor's allies, meanwhile, are accusing former mayor David Miller's administration of starving the expressway of funds as part of their "anti-car agenda."

"They ignored it. They'd rather have bike paths down the Gardiner than cars. Let's call a spade a spade," said Councillor Doug Ford, the mayor's brother. "The good news is we are all over this."

Toronto's draft budget for 2013 calls for spending $505-million on repairing and rebuilding the Gardiner over the next 10 years.

The plan, if approved by council, would essentially mean the Gardiner is here to stay.

"I think that tearing down the Gardiner potentially could cost more. The traffic delays would be more significant," said Denzil Minnan-Wong, another Ford ally and chair of the public works committee.

Last week Mr. Minnan-Wong revealed that the budget for rehabilitation of the Gardiner has been underspent for 10 of the last 14 years, a fact that only came out when he asked city finance staff to crunch the numbers.

City officials on Wednesday offered little explanation for the underspending, except to say that council under Mr. Miller had directed staff to perform only emergency repairs on the section east of Jarvis after the environmental assessment was approved in 2008. No work was deferred west of Jarvis, they said.

The severity of the Gardiner's problems started to become apparent last summer, when chunks of concrete fell from the underbelly of the elevated expressway to Lake Shore Boulevard below.

While transportation officials repeatedly assured Torontonians that the roadway was "structurally sound" and posed no danger to the public, documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Toronto Star and Global News suggest the troubles were more serious and widespread than the city let on.

"I don't think it's a crisis whatsoever," deputy city manager John Livey said Wednesday.

However, he and one of his colleagues acknowledged that parts of the road are reaching the end of their lifespan.

"It's simply a matter of age," said John Kelly, the city's acting director of design and construction. "This section of the Gardiner [east of Jarvis] was built in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Regardless of the amount of repair work that you put into it over that time period, eventually you're going to require replacement."

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