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.