Canadian Consulting Engineer

Montreal and Toronto grapple with urban expressways

The big master planning moves of the 1960s and 1970s left a legacy of expressways threading through some of Canada's cities. Today these structures are either still seen as vital traffic arteries, or are dismissed as an urban blight that...

February 25, 2014   Canadian Consulting Engineer

The big master planning moves of the 1960s and 1970s left a legacy of expressways threading through some of Canada’s cities. Today these structures are either still seen as vital traffic arteries, or are dismissed as an urban blight that divides neighbourhoods and encourages car travel — depending on your point of view.

Now Toronto is in the midst of a debate over removing yet another section of its elevated Gardiner Expressway, while Montreal politicians have launched a campaign to cover a section of the Ville Marie expressway.

On February 21, Montreal Mayer Denis Coderre announced that the city wanted to create a new urban space over a 125-metre section of the sunken expressway that dates from 1967 and carries traffic through the downtown to the Jacques Cartier Bridge.

Most of the Ville Marie expressway runs in a tunnel, but there are exposed sections downtown. According to the mayor, covering a 125-meter section between St. Urbain and Sanguinet Streets will better connect the downtown core with Old Montreal. It would also ease access to the new “superhospital,” the Centre hospitalier universitaire de Montréal that is under construction along Avenue Viger northwest of the expressway and is due to open in 2016.

Coderre wants to complete the project by 2017 to coincide with Montreal’s 375th birthday. The Montreal Gazette quoted him as saying, “We are sending a message that this is a priority. There is a new attitude and we want to act like a metropolis and in our priorities there are things we want to do.”

However, the province of Quebec, which is responsible for the expressway, is concerned about the cost of the project, which was estimated at $200 million a decade ago.

Meanwhile, in Toronto, another 1960s era urban expressway is a hot topic of debate. The board of Waterfront Toronto recommended on February 21 that the city remove 2.4-kilometres of the Gardiner East, an elevated section that runs from the Don Valley Parkway and Don River to Jarvis Street. Further east, the city has already demolished a section of the road, in 2001.

An environmental assessment has considered four different options for the Gardiner East. One would simply repair and maintain the elevated expressway as it is. Another would maintain it and improve the surrounding urban fabric. A third option would replace the road with a new expressway that would be above or below grade. The fourth option is to remove the expressway altogether and build a new “boulevard” with traffic lights at grade along Lakeshore Boulevard.

All the options come with a price and there is strong opposition to tearing down the structure. The opposition comes not only from feisty politicians like Mayor Rob Ford, but also from transportation experts such as Murtaza Haider,, Ph.D., an engineering graduate associate dean of research and graduate programs at the Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University, who has been interviewed on CBC Radio. These opponents say replacing the expressway with a ground level boulevard will make traffic conditions worse.

Waterfront Toronto says it is recommending the removal option based on the conclusions of the “Gardiner Expressway & Lake Shore Boulevard Reconfiguration Environmental Assessment and Urban Design Study.” The EA study concluded that removal of the expressway “best balances regional transportation needs and local access to the downtown and growing waterfront communities.” The EA technical analysis also found that removal would result in the lowest noise levels, lowest local and regional air quality impacts and lowest regional greenhouse gas emissions. The technical analysis also concluded that the remove option is the least costly from a capital and lifecycle costing basis.

Waterfront Toronto’s team for the environmental assessment involved Dillon Consulting, with Morrison Hershfield, Perkins + Will, HR&A and Hargreaves Associates.


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