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Inspection blitz of Gardiner Expressway under way

A City of Toronto employee holds a chunk of concrete that fell from the Gardiner Expressway onto Parkside Drive near Lake Shore Boulevard West in Toronto on May 10, 2012.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

City crews have begun a month-long inspection blitz of the Gardiner Expressway that could close lanes and pedestrian walkways after a piece of concrete fell from the busy roadway earlier this week, the third in less than a month.

The emergency inspections will target pedestrian areas beneath the highway first, with that work beginning Thursday and expected to be completed by the end of Friday. Extra engineering crews also will help staff inspect all roadway sections beneath the Gardiner by June 15. Lanes and walkways will be closed where a "significant safety risk" is found, a staff briefing note says.

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the city's public works committee, said the action follows an emergency meeting Wednesday with senior city staff and officials from the mayor's office over a string of falling concrete incidents this month.

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"One incident is a freak occurrence. A second incident becomes troubling, but when you have a third incident happen, then you start to connect data points and you have a trend," Mr. Minnan-Wong said. "We saw a troubling trend and we wanted to make sure that the Gardiner Expressway was safe."

On May 7, a piece of concrete fell onto Lake Shore Blvd. east of Jarvis. On May 10, a piece fell from a bridge at Parkside Drive and on May 22, a piece fell onto the north-east corner of Lower Simcoe Street.

Just last week, city staff gave an update to the public works committee on a 10-year, $150-million plan to repair the raised sections of the aging expressway that are deteriorating because of years of exposure to freezing and thawing and road salt. At that time, staff assured the committee that the expressway was safe.

Mr. Minnan-Wong said that may be the case and even if no new problem areas are found, he argued the extra measures will be worth it.

"The number one issue right now is public safety," he said. "I think that is still the right thing to do to make sure the public is assured and we are assured that it is safe to drive under the Gardiner Expressway."

The emergency inspections also will include a stepped up "controlled chipping" program until the end of June aimed at uncovering possible problem areas.

Mr. Minnan-Wong did not have an estimate for the cost of the extra work and outside crews required to conduct the blitz.

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