Tearing down the crumbling Gardiner Expressway east of Jarvis Street will create "traffic chaos," predicts Mayor Rob Ford on the eve of the release of new findings expected to make the case for dismantling the roadway.
City staff will provide an update Wednesday on the four options under consideration as part of an environmental assessment on the eastern portion of the elevated expressway. Sources familiar with the preliminary findings say just two – tearing it down or maintaining the highway in its existing form – are realistic because of costs. The two others – rebuilding or improving it – are too expensive, they say.
Dismantling the highway east of Jarvis is emerging as the "preferred alternative," of the EA, several sources confirmed, with a report going to the city's public works committee next month. Staff are "leaning heavily" toward taking down the roadway, a senior bureaucrat confirmed. The public will have a chance to weigh in at a meeting Thursday evening.
The future of one of the city's main traffic arteries has long been a divisive topic. Maintaining the raised roadway, which has shed chucks of concrete in recent years, is an expensive proposition and those advocating for its dismantling east of Jarvis say it would help to open up the waterfront at the Port Lands and raise property values. Others, such as the mayor and Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the public works committee, say taking it down is not the solution.
"I'm not going to tear it down. It'll cause traffic chaos," Mr. Ford told reporters Tuesday. "I think the staff and I are on a different page. … Staff, I believe, want to tear it down. I don't want to tear it down. I want to maintain it, just like most Torontonians want it to be maintained."
Mr. Minnan-Wong warns the tearing down the roadway could create a new barrier to the waterfront in the form of a busy, wide Lakeshore Boulevard that discourages pedestrians. "My fear is that they are going to want to tear down the Gardiner and their transportation solution will not make anybody happy," he said.
Mr. Minnan-Wong called that solution the "futon of roads" – a compromise that is "a terrible bed and an even worse couch."
Councillor Paula Fletcher, who represents the ward that includes the section of the highway included in the EA, said there is no easy answer and cautioned people not to jump to conclusions.
"We have to see what is possible, feasible and realistic," she said, adding later, "I think we need to base our decisions on the evidence and take into account the findings."
Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, a long-time supporter of keeping the expressway, has made up his mind. "I spoke and voted on these issues about 20 years ago," he said. "I supported the Gardiner then. I support it now."