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Toronto city staff recommend tearing down eastern portion of Gardiner

Traffic heads up the Gardiner Expressway ramp at Jarvis Street. A new report says the best solution for the aging Gardiner is to tear down the section east of Jarvis.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Time is running out for Toronto's aging Gardiner Expressway, but a group of councillors is now saying more work is needed before they decide its fate.

A new staff report recommends the city tear down the eastern portion of the crumbling roadway, an option it finds would cost $187-million more than keeping it up and in good condition in the short term, but prevent expensive maintenance bills over the next century.

The report released on Tuesday will go to the public works committee next week, then on to council at the beginning of April. With large chunks of the raised highway falling off, the report points out a "timely decision" is needed. But an election is coming in October, and councillors who favour taking down the highway say extra time is needed to address fears about the traffic headaches that could create.

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Councillor Paula Fletcher, who represents an east-end ward that includes the section of highway in question, said on Tuesday she would like the highway removed, but not without finding ways to increase traffic capacity along the eastern waterfront. That, she said, could require delaying a decision.

"Right now, it is a time when we have to look at all the implications, make smart decisions and if that means we have to take a little more time to see if we can cobble together something … I am prepared to do that," she said.

Councillor Pam McConnell, who would prefer the highway to be taken down, also wants more time to study the options – suggesting a quick vote at council would lead to a "knee jerk" reaction that supports maintaining it.

"This isn't black and white. It isn't take down or leave up," she said.

"We do have to make sure that we have both the capacity for the roads, the transportation plan in place and have all those things before we take any bit of it down."

Earlier this week, Councillor Karen Stintz, in the race for mayor, talked about a "hybrid option" that would take down the raised roadway but keep the connection between the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner.

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the public works committee, opposes tearing down the highway, and said it is too late for such discussions.

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"The time for half-baked hybrid solutions is over with, and the time to make a decision is now because the Gardiner Expressway is crumbling," he said.

The staff recommendation is based on the findings of a joint environmental assessment conducted by the city and Waterfront Toronto. It concludes replacing the highway with a refurbished eight-lane Lake Shore Boulevard would free up city-owned land for sale and encourage waterfront development, but add as much as 30 minutes to motorists' daily commute times.

Last week, the board of directors of Waterfront Toronto also gave its backing to tearing down the section of highway. Mr. Minnan-Wong took issue with the report's findings, noting they do not take into account the cost of added gridlock and questioned the benefits of what would replace the raised highway.

"The solution that they are proposing is awful. They are proposing an eight-lane road that they are going to gussy up with bushes, trees, shrubs and flowers, and that's like putting lipstick on a pig," he said.

Mayor Rob Ford and Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly both have indicated they do not support dismantling the highway east of Jarvis.

Even if council does vote on the Gardiner's future at its April meeting, the debate will not end there. Staff will return with a final report in 2015 after this year's election. That report, which will include a financing strategy and more detailed design plans and cost estimates, will require the approval of the newly elected council.

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