Corp Comm Connects

With new plan approved, work on Gardiner Expressway can start promptly - in 2019 (but probably won’t)
June 13, 2015
By Richard Warnica

Toronto’s long, torturous battle over the Gardiner Expressway came to a merciful end this week, when city council voted to endorse a plan that will the keep the elevated roadway intact.

Work is set to begin immediately on council’s chosen “hybrid” option for the span, with the project fully completed within the decade.

It was another, clear sign of the decisive, direct process Toronto has for deciding on and carrying out infrastructure projects, one that has the seen the city build an astonishing array of new mass transit options in the last decade while maintaining and expanding its road network.

“All is well in Toronto,” happy residents said when told of the news.

“We’re enjoying a modern city here, where things get done a reasonable pace.”

Oh, if only it were so.

City council did, indeed, vote in favour of the hybrid option for the Gardiner Thursday. But as for the rest of it, well, not so much.

According to John Livey, Toronto’s acting city manager, the absolute earliest construction can begin on the Gardiner is 2019.

And even if everything goes smoothly between now and then, shovels aren’t likely to be in the ground before 2020.

“Nothing important is ever decided in civic politics once,” said Brian Kelsey, an urban policy consultant in Toronto.

“We’ve got tentative approval on this, but there will be other votes, on the financing, on the final route, on the new environmental assessment that’s going to have to be done.”

The hybrid option must clear a host of legal, political and procedural hurdles before construction can get under way.

First up is another council meeting this fall.

In addition to recommending a final design, city staff were asked Thursday to report back to council in September after having studied several aspects of the plan and several other, marginally related, topics. They include alternative, already rejected, designs for realigning the Gardiner, options for introducing tolls on the road and the possibility of burying the whole thing in a tunnel.

If Mayor John Tory’s small pro-hybrid coalition stays together long enough to approve the design staff present in September, the city will send the final plan to the province for an environmental assessment some time in early 2016. If the province approves the plan, likely sometime in 2017, the city will then have to vote on a final budget for the project and put it out to tender by the end of 2018, it is hoped.

Of course, 2018 also brings a municipal election, which could throw the entire project back into the political arena. Then there’s the possibility of legal action, from landowners affected by the placement of the new Gardiner ramps, or those otherwise upset by the process.

“It’s not over till it’s over and in civic politics, it’s rarely over,” said Kelcey.

In the meantime, the city is spending millions of dollars a year just to keep the existing east Gardiner up - $14 million over the last two years and another $5 million this year, with more to come, says Livey.

For Kelcey, that time frame is a cause for serious concern.

“We in Toronto and Canadians generally desperately need to find ways to build faster,” he said. “And if I were John Tory right now, one of my top priorities would be to say, ‘Look, these timelines are just unacceptable.’ ”

If the plan does go forward, though, it should at least be the last word on the east Gardiner for several generations.

Livey says roads of this type are now built to last between 75 and 125 years.