The Gardiner Expressway has six years before the decking at the east end of the elevated highway becomes unsafe to drive on according to city transportation engineers – and it’ll take a half-billion dollars to repair it over the next 10 years.
That was the salient information that emerged from the release of a number of internal emails among city engineers about the crumbling highway, and a briefing note that went to the city’s budget committee last week.
The revelation has re-ignited a debate – and a wave of finger-pointing – over the very political handling of the question of what to do with the aging piece of transportation infrastructure crossing the southern portion of Toronto’s downtown.
Over the summer, pieces of concrete have fallen from the underside of the road onto Lake Shore Boulevard, prompting a scramble among staff and politicians to reassure the public the highway is safe.
However, documents indicate it may be more dangerous than anyone publicly indicated, with the potential for “punch throughs” on portions of the actual highway.
According to staff, the city can continue to make emergency repairs on the highway for the next six years, to the tune of $30 to $35 million a year.
But after that, the road won’t be safe to drive on, and the city will either have to tear it down or rebuild the entire top decking of the highway.
The news re-opens a debate among councillors on the political left and right about what to do about the highway in the longer term, that had gone quiet since 2010, when Mayor Rob Ford was elected on a platform of keeping the Gardiner Expressway up.
The David Miller administration had been working with Waterfront Toronto on an environmental assessment of the implications of simply tearing the Gardiner down east of Jarvis Street.
Because of that, the city had elected to do only emergency repairs on that portion of the highway, while concentrating longer-term maintenance on the western Gardiner.
When Ford was elected, the environmental assessment was quietly shelved despite the fact council had never given direction to stop.
That decision had some councillors crying foul. “Today we discovered that the current administration overturned a legal process to include the public and get advice on the Gardiner without any advice from city council,” said Parkdale-High Park Councillor Gord Perks.
“This administration, just as they did with Transit City, is trying to make billions of dollars of decisions without the advice of Toronto Council.”
Public Works and Infrastructure Committee Chair Denzil Minnan-Wong said he recalled speaking with staff about the shut-down of the environmental assessment, and said the city and Waterfront Toronto agreed to pull the plug on the environmental assessment following Ford’s election.
“My recollections of that circumstance was that given there was a new mayor elected, committed to keeping the Gardiner Expressway up, because he spoke about it publicly, Waterfront Toronto was no longer making that a priority. Because there was a new mayor who believed in that and agreed with that, administratively that’s what was done.”
Minnan-Wong accused critics such as Perks of “hypocrisy” for their surprise that the matter had been shelved without council approval.
“Most of those councillors are fairly intelligent and if they were really and truly interested in it, they could have asked,” he said.
The future of the Gardiner Expressway will be going to council, but it will be doing so in the city’s 2013 capital budget, in January.
Staff have estimated it would cost several billion dollars to tear the Gardiner down and replace it with a wider Lake Shore Boulevard.