Toronto’s budget committee has asked for reports on the pros and cons of selling or leasing the Gardiner Expressway rather than trying to manage and repair the crumbling elevated highway using taxpayers’ money alone.
The city is looking at spending more than half a billion dollars to rehabilitate the highway after engineering studies indicated it is nearing the end of its useful lifespan, and will only be safe to drive on for the next six years.
The motion to look at privatizing the highway came from an unlikely source: Trinity-Spadina Councillor Adam Vaughan, a left-of-centre critic of Mayor Rob Ford who is contemplating a run for the mayoralty himself.
Vaughan brought the motion to the committee with the idea of selling the highway to a private operator, who would set tolls and use that money to keep the road standing – and also provide money to the city.
Members of the budget committee were cautiously supportive of the idea, although not all keen to actually sell the highway.
“Creative ideas are good, but it’s a risky game when we talk about selling the DVP or the Gardiner Expressway,” said York Centre Councillor James Pasternak. “If those were offloaded to private hands, it could strangle decision-making for the city for decades. It would affect our ability to structure a regional transit system, it would strangle us in planning and building.”
Pasternak said leasing might be an option, something that others, including Etobicoke North Councillor Doug Ford, echoed.
“I’m not comfortable with selling off the Gardiner,” he said, suggesting the city look for foreign investors worldwide for a partnership arrangement. “All over the world they’re getting the government involved with the private sector. I don’t see the harm in at least looking into it.”
Budget Chair Mike Del Grande said the issue ultimately needed to go to council.
“The whole issue of the Gardiner should take place at full council,” he said. “It needs a full whatever... drag-it-out discussion.”
Del Grande said any discussion on the future of the Gardiner shouldn’t pre-empt the necessary repair work going forward now.
“I want to assure Torontonians: we are going to fix whatever needs to be fixed on the Gardiner,” he said. “I don’t view it as good money after bad money, because the Gardiner is the only structure we have. We have to do what we have to do.”