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Doug Ford says it’s time for private-sector partner, tolls for Gardiner Expressway

Councillor Doug Ford says it's time to partner with the private sector and consider adding toll lanes to the Gardiner Expressway in the wake of a report that finds falling concrete from the elevated highway represents "a significant hazard to public safety."

The independent study was commissioned by the city in response to a series of incidents in May and June when chunks fell from the busy roadway. It recommends a series of measures to maintain the aging highway including more thorough and systematic monitoring of its condition and protective structures, such as netting to catch any falling pieces that could hit pedestrians or cars travelling underneath it. It also recommends limiting access to the area under the highway.

The Etobicoke councillor, who uses the Gardiner as part of his daily commute, said the city needs to investigate a partnership with the private sector that would see the addition of extra lanes on the busy highway. Such a move could generate money for needed repairs through tolls.

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"I'd pay the $5 to get downtown every day," he said, adding that drivers also would still have to be given the option of driving in lanes without a toll. "I'd put a toll road separate. You either get a freebie or a toll, " he said.

Mayor Rob Ford, the councillor's brother, has often said he is against road tolls.

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the city's public works committee, expressed concern at the report's findings. In discussions with staff, he said he was assured that appropriate action is being taken.

"I asked staff, 'Is it safe?" They said 'yes,'" Mr. Minnan-Wong said. "The question is what do we need to do to keep it safe."

The city has budgeted $150-million over 10 years to fix the highway, but in reaction to increasing concerns over safety that figure could rise to more than $300-million, deputy city manager John Livey said.

Mr. Livey also underlined that the roadway is safe. The city is taking steps to respond to the findings, he said, including investigating such measures as netting. "We are not knowingly going to let anything fall," he said.

Mr. Minnan-Wong expressed frustration that he did not see the findings until Thursday, even though he asked for an update on the study, conducted in late August and early September, more than a month ago.

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Mr. Livey said revisions were still being made to the report, which was released Friday following a report in the Toronto Star.

Mr. Minnan-Wong said staff will be requesting an additional $20-million in next year's budget for Gardiner repairs, taking the annual total to $35-million from $15-million. That money will be used to increase monitoring as recommended by the report and to make repairs, he said.

Repair work on the Gardiner was stepped up this summer in response to the falling concrete. Two ramps have been closed for work and this weekend the eastbound collector lanes of the expressway from Wickman Road to Park Lawn Road, will be closed on Saturday from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. for maintenance work.

The consultant's report also cautions that the risk of separating chunks, or concrete spalls, can never be totally eliminated. "As such, potential concrete spalls present a significant hazard to public safety," it states.

Mr. Minnan-Wong said the city is not taking any immediate action to limit public access to areas under the roadway, which includes sections of Lake Shore Boulevard, bike paths and sidewalks.

While the Gardiner is a used heavily by commuters from throughout the Toronto area, the provincial government handed it over to the city under a previous Conservative government.

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Provincial Tory leader Tim Hudak has promised to take back responsibility of the highway, as well as the Don Valley Parkway, if elected. He ruled out tolls for existing roadways, when asked by reporters earlier this week.

Mr. Minnan-Wong said he'd welcome that. "The maintenance costs are substantial and are not going anywhere but up," he said.

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