DAILY NEWS Dec 17, 2012 7:54 PM - 2 comments

Engineering professor sees Gardiner as big opportunity

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Based partly on reports and work by unnamed consultants, city engineers in Toronto have determined that the infamous Gardiner Expressway is in such a state of disrepair that it needs over $505 million spending on repairs over the next decade. The heavily travelled expressway crosses east-west across the downtown area.

Several chunks of concrete fell off the elevated roadway this summer, including one that hit a vehicle on the road below. According to reports in the Toronto Star, communications people at the city sent out reassuring messages to the public saying the roadway was safe, while city engineers were emailing reports about concrete hanging precariously from the structure's underbelly.

The announcement by the city engineers in December that a 2-kilometre portion of the roadway between Jarvis Street and the start of the Don Valley Parkway east of downtown could be unsafe to drive in six years has renewed calls for that section to be demolished. Another 1-kilometre section of the expressway will need replacing within six years between Strachan Avenue and Rees Street to the west of downtown.

The latest findings have revived the debate about what to do about the Gardiner. Some are calling for the city to take a completely fresh look at the problem. One councillor has called for selling the road to the private sector who could then charge tolls to recoup their expenses. Burying the traffic in an underground tunnel is another option that has been proposed but is usually dismissed as too expensive.

Paul Gauvreau, an associate professor of civil engineering at the University of Toronto, published an article in the Globe and Mail on December 14 where he argued that the city should be taking a more radical approach and rebuilding a completely new structure.

"The Gardiner is tightly stitched into Toronto's urban fabric," wrote Gauvreau. "Regardless of whether it's repaired or rebuilt, its future represents one of the most significant engineering challenges ever to be faced in Canada." 

Gauvreau pointed out that in the long-term it would be less expensive to demolish and rebuild the road because a rehabilitated Gardiner will continue to need repairs and heavy maintenance.

He called for the city to use this as an opportunity to allow engineers to use their innovative powers. Those skills have been stifled in recent years.

"Unfortunately, public agencies in Canada have had a disproportionate focus on minimizing risk," Gauvreau wrote. "All other things being equal, the easiest way to accomplish this goal is to do the same thing over and over. When engineers are repeatedly requested to implement yesterday's solutions — that is, not to innovate — engineering becomes a mere commodity that can be bought and sold at the lowest price."

Despite the road's problems, the budget for maintaining the Gardiner has been underspent for the last decade. An environmental study on tearing down part of the expressway was halted after Mayor Ford came to office, and since then the city has been doing only emergency repairs on that section.


Gardiner Expressway in downtown Toronto.  Photography CCE/BP
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Caption: Gardiner Expressway in downtown Toronto. Photography C...
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Reader Comments

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With today's technology and engineering skills, a higher state-of-the-art viaduct can replace the existing one with a signficantly lesser footprint that would beneficially open up the area underneath. However, as the previous commenter points out, the issue is largely related to urban design---or rather the severe lack of urban design over the past generation that never incorporated a well-thought-out (viaduct) replacement in conjunction with the surrounding residential intensification.
The fundamental problem that cannot be reversed without a Dictatorship approach has been the hastily constructed and densely spaced condominium skyscrapers, which has choked out appropriate transportation corridors in this area of the metropolis (along with choking out the waterfront). Urban planners over the past couple decades have severely failed and planned to overpopulate this area without any consideration to the additional proportional amount of transportation space that would be required. The current fiasco is now the consequence.
It's time to tear down the tower cranes in Toronto, which are quite strangely a record number in North America in recent years (how many middle-class Canadian Citizens can afford these condos??). Sustainable urban design should be executed now and for the future, which must always consider a sustainable population in conjunction with modern mass-transit systems. It is otherwise futile and detrimental to grow infinitely. Everything must begin with determining a sustainable population QUANTITY (for Canada) and a sustainable population DENSITY (for any region); otherwise, "Sustainability" is yet another ship without a rudder.

Posted January 3, 2013 01:30 PM

Ben Novak B.Eng., MCP

With due respect Professor Paul Gauvreau, the opportunity represented by the eventual rethinking and rebuilding of a downtown by-pass, distributor/collector, all of which the Gardner is at present, it will take more than mere engineering to solve the growing problem. Professor Gauvreau is no doubt aware that other studies have been done, some proposing the elimination of the structure and dealing with traffic on grade. All in all this is an urban planning issue. Due consideration has to be paid to the tremendous potential of the Toronto waterfront and its better integration with "down-town". While burying the problem might have a superficial attraction, we have Boston as an example of what can evolve, time and cost-wise.
This is an opportunity for an international competition, to see what the best thinkers in planning architecture and of course engineering can come up with, fit for the metropolis of Toronto and doing justice to this fine piece of real estate as well. Put Toronto in the forefront again. And while we are at it, let's not only think cars, but also transit, and urban design.

Posted December 20, 2012 01:26 PM

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