Toronto is going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more to speed up repairs to the city's waterfront highway, handing the project to the private sector in a bid to mitigate risk.
The aging Gardiner Expressway needs substantial rehabilitation work. The project to fix the main part of the highway was originally expected to last 20 years, starting later this decade. That schedule was to be slashed to 12 years through the use of different construction techniques. Thursday's decision by city council could cut the timeline to six years.
But the latest acceleration of the schedule adds an estimated cost of $300-million.
"Public-sector projects … have repeatedly and consistently been massively over budget and way out of time-schedule, and I don't think we can afford to continue that way," Mayor John Tory said. "What we're doing here – with some additional cost, I admit that – is buying insurance of an on-time, on-budget completion of that project."
Thursday's decision to switch to a so-called "alternative-financing" model means the private sector will bid on both the rehabilitation and maintenance of the Gardiner. The cost of the project had been estimated at $3.8-billion. Using the private sector will allow the city to apply for federal assistance, though, which could amount to as much as $800-million.
This work is distinct from the debate over what to do with the eastern portion of the Gardiner. In June, council voted to replace that stretch of the highway with a new elevated highway, and the process of where it should run, and at what cost, is still under way.
The alternative-financing proposal proved much less contentious than some other issues related the Gardiner. It passed easily at council, though not before a series of councillors raised warnings.
Among them was Gord Perks, who suggested that the estimated savings were generated by people, in the private sector and various levels of government, whose jobs relied on the success of the public-private partnership model. And he noted the secrecy behind how those people arrived at the presumed savings.
"These are not actual costs, they are assessments of risk," Mr. Perks said. "I cannot show my constituents how it is that this assessment of risk was arrived at."
Fellow councillor Shelley Carroll successfully convinced her colleagues that there should be a closer look at the methodology behind the proposal's value-for-money analysis. She argued that doing this peer review won't add any time to the project's schedule.
"This can happen in tandem with the work that still has to be completed," she said. "If they go the academic route, as opposed to the private sector, that shortens the procurement period and the city manager assures me there's enough money right now in the ancillary costs part of this proposal to absorb that."