New options for Toronto's Gardiner Expressway that promise to improve the contentious roadway come with sharply higher price tags that could nearly double the capital cost.
Three adapted designs for the eastern end of the lakeside highway were released Tuesday in an attempt to solve problems with a route that city council approved in principle back in June, when they voted to keep it as an elevated highway. The one debated by council was sent back to staff for revision, and has been mothballed and won't undergo a full environmental assessment.
The new proposals are an attempt to free up as much city land as possible for sale, while stopping an encroachment on a private development in the area. They do this, but some of the ideas bring new problems, and the most expensive is projected to cost up to $230-million more than the June design.
In a statement, a spokeswoman for Mayor John Tory stressed that it was a progress report, so the numbers were "only estimates." She added that "a significant portion" of any additional costs could be recouped through land sales.
The two more expensive options free up the most land but would mean a 10-kilometre-an-hour drop in the speed limit on the ramp linking the Gardiner with the Don Valley Parkway.
Staff will continue to refine the three options and weigh them against the evaluation criteria to come up with a preferred alternative to put before city council. Council's choice will ultimately need to be approved by the Ministry of the Environment.
Cynthia Wilkey, co-chair of the West Don Lands Committee, said that only the more expensive new options seemed likely to meet provincial approval.
"Doesn't this just demonstrate the folly of trying to keep this up? Because this is the kind of money you have to spend to meet the criteria in the environmental assessment," she said.
"There's a choice: You take the thing down, or if you really want to proceed with keeping it up, it's actually even more expensive than you thought it was going to be, in order to make it conform with the EA and get it approved."
The Gardiner proposal approved by city council earlier this year was projected to cost $260-million, using net present value (NPV) figures.
According to Tuesday's report for the city's public works and infrastructure committee, the most ambitious of the new proposals for the highway would result in an additional $120-million to $180-million in capital expenditures, also in NPV figures, as well as $30-million to $50-million for improvements to the area.
Another proposal would mean a projected $90-million to $120-million jump in capital costs, plus the same $30-million to $50-million for area improvements, all figures NPV. The final proposal, the one most like the design floated earlier this year, would not involve an increase in capital costs but would still require the same improvements to the area.
"All work and schedule and cost estimates presented in this report should be considered preliminary," staff caution. "The alternative design concepts will be developed in more detail and further changes to these concepts are possible."
During the Gardiner debate earlier this year, many councillors and media used another accounting method – 2013 uninflated dollars – to describe the project's costs. Using that approach, the original plan was projected to cost $919-million over the life cycle of the project. Staff did not reveal the uninflated cost of the adaptations unveiled Tuesday, but did use that accounting method to note the value of land opened up by the new options.
According to the report, the most expensive option would allow the sale of an estimated $100-million in land, in uninflated dollars, and the second-most expensive would open up the sale of an estimated $90-million in land. The cheapest option would open up $60-million in additional land for sale.
The least expensive of the new options is essentially the same as the one councillors had before them when they voted. The key difference is that the new eastbound off-ramp at Cherry Street would be moved closer to the highway, so it would not interfere with private property.
The most expensive option involves moving the highway to the north, east of Cherry Street, and widening the railway bridge across the Don River. The middle option also moves the highway north, but not as far, and doesn't require the bridge to be changed.