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Tearing down the Gardiner east of Jarvis would add space for condos and other buildings, but would lengthen commutes by as much as 30 minutes.

Waterfront Toronto

Tearing down the Gardiner Expressway east of Jarvis would save the city millions, but also cost motorists as much as 30 minutes in daily commute times, new figures show.

Council will consider the fate of the aging roadway this spring and it is likely to be an election issue – part of the broader debate over gridlock. New figures from the city and Waterfront Toronto released on Wednesday show a clear preference for dismantling the raised highway east of Jarvis and shifting traffic to a revitalized, eight-lane Lake Shore Boulevard.

The preliminary report makes no recommendation, but removal – one of four options considered in an environmental assessment – scored the highest, getting low marks only in the areas of automobiles and movement of goods.

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Estimates put removal at $330-million, with total costs over a 100-year lifecycle of $470-million in today's dollars. Maintaining the existing roadway – the next ranked option – would cost $215-million in initial capital, plus another $130-million later. When maintenance is added, total costs rise to $870-million. The other options are to improve and replace.

If it is removed, commuters who use the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner to get downtown could spend an extra 20 minutes on the road each day, and as much as half an hour without transit improvements that include a downtown relief subway line.

Tearing down the section of the highway would mean traffic travelling between the DVP and the Gardiner would use Lake Shore Boulevard as a connection.

Deputy city manager John Livey said he will make a recommendation to the public works committee in March, and expects council to consider it in April. When a preferred option is selected, detailed work will be done and the next council will give final approval in 2015 before the environmental assessment goes to the province. He expects work would begin by 2019 or 2020.

The public can weigh in on Thursday night at a meeting at Toronto Reference Library.

Opponents of tearing down the Gardiner – including Mayor Rob Ford and deputy mayor Norm Kelly – lined up on Wednesday to express their dismay.

"I want to keep the Gardiner," Mr. Ford said, adding he believes most Torontonians feel the same. "I'm sure it's gonna be a big election issue."

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Mr. Kelly said tearing down the Gardiner would only add to the cost of gridlock.

Councillor Paula Fletcher, whose east-end ward includes the Gardiner, said she is "open" to its removal and urged councillors to consider what is best for all residents. "The option that is coming up as best for the city overall – for the waterfront, for the finances – is remove. It's not so great if you are someone driving down the DVP," she said.

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the public works committee, criticized removal on many fronts. "Businesses and families will have more delays in getting home and to work," he said, adding the additional gridlock would increase polluting greenhouse gases.

As for the cityscape, he said the three-storey-high Gardiner would be replaced by condos and buildings of four to 10 storeys that are as much a barrier to the waterfront as the elevated expressway.

Murtaza Haider, associate dean of research and graduate programs at Ryerson University and an expert in transportation and logistics, argues improvements in transit should be made before the highway is taken down.

"The travel times would not decrease because of this intervention, they would increase," he said. "Is that a good thing for the city? The citizens of Toronto have to decide."

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With reports from Marcus Gee and Ann Hui

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