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City staff are expected to recommend tearing down or simply maintaining the eastern section of the Gardiner Expressway.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

A plan to demolish the eastern strip of the Gardiner Expressway was the most popular choice at a public hearing Thursday night on the future of the roadway.

The City of Toronto and Waterfront Toronto co-hosted a forum at the Toronto Reference Library to get community feedback on a report released Wednesday that detailed four development proposals for the aging expressway.

The groups presented the costs, construction times and traffic implications for plans to replace, maintain, improve or remove the structure, which city officials say only has about five years of usage left.

When the 200 people in attendance had a chance to speak after hearing the proposals, they clearly favoured the plan to tear down the expressway east of Jarvis Street and replace it with an eight-lane boulevard lined with 1,200 trees.

"I like the urban design aspect of it. It'll open up the landscape, and there's a lot of potential for park land, bike paths and some mixed-use community space," said Per Lundberg, an urban planning student at Queen's University in attendance. "It's also the cheapest – that's also definitely a factor."

Other supporters of removing the Gardiner liked the low cost and quick construction times relative to the other plans.

However, some were hesitant to adopt the plan due to concerns about how it would affect traffic.

"We've got a huge congestion problem in the GTA," said Peter Wood, a Toronto resident who favoured the plan to maintain the existing expressway. "Removing the Gardiner would increase traffic everywhere, including the 401 and QEW."

Under the city's current projections, removing the Gardiner and building and maintaining the new boulevard would take about three years and cost $470-million.

That's far less time and money than the other three proposals. Rehabilitating the Gardiner to maintain its existing capacity would cost about $870-million and take six years. A similar plan to rehabilitate and improve the road by adding bike lanes would cost $865-million and also take six years. Replacing it altogether with a new elevated road would cost $1.39-billion, with construction lasting eight years.

"We do not have a do-nothing scenario," said John Livey, deputy manager for the City of Toronto. "We have to do something to it. The Gardiner will not last."

The City of Toronto and Waterfront Toronto will take the opinions shared by the public into consideration before presenting one of the four options to the public works committee on March 4.

Any development plans will not begin for another four years.

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