What should Toronto do with the Gardiner Expressway?
The cost of fixing the rapidly deteriorating Gardiner Expressway has been back in the headlines recently as the city's budget committee discusses whether or not to commit to a proposed ten-year, $505 million program of repairs necessary to stop the road from falling down.
The concrete cladding and internal metal structure are all in urgent need of attention if the city wants to avoid more falling material, but fixes are going to come at a cost regardless of whether we decide to pay for it in the way the city desires. In short, the bill has arrived and we have to pay up somehow.
So what are the alternative routes the city could take?
TEAR IT DOWN
One way the city might save a cash is to partly demolish the highway and put the repair money towards a revised road east of Jarvis. A tunneled stretch through downtown (very expensive with the lake so close and the quality of the soil) or a total rebuild of the existing street are pretty much out of the question.
According to a 2009 study cited by Matt Elliott at Metro, just eight per cent of commuters to the downtown core used the Gardiner. Taking the road out completely would be viable if there were decent alternatives to the road, like subways or suburban commuter rail like GO. To handle the bodies displaced by the loss of the elevated highway there would need to be significant service increases on the Lake Shore line, which currently runs roughly every 30 minutes at rush hour.
Toronto isn't really used to the idea of paying to use highways but there are numerous other countries that charge drivers to use high-traffic or maintenance heavy roads. Drivers using the Sydney Harbour Bridge and tunnel, for example, are required to toss a coin into a bucket before they're allowed to proceed downtown. A small toll could also reduce traffic, which is something everyone can get behind, and the money could also be used to fund new public transit.
From previous discussions we know road tolls have the potential to rake in serious cash for the city. A 1-cent per kilometre toll could generate $1.5 billion for repairs and provide much-needed transportation funding for Metrolinx's next wave of Big Move projects.
$505 million is a serious chunk of change. If the current budget gets the green light, the cost of the repairs will be spread out over ten years but the disruption caused by carrying out the work will likely not improve traffic flow in the short term. This also doesn't solve the problem of having a major highway scything through the downtown core creating a barrier to the waterfront.
Issues like that might be secondary at this stage but I hope it at least factors in to the decision.
TURN IT INTO A PARK
I'm an optimist, but I seriously doubt anything like this could happen. Turning the Gardiner into a High Line North would undoubtedly be neat but I suspect the resulting tourism dollars would be tiny compared to keeping the highway running under a toll.
But why not build a park on top of the highway, making it a sort of automobile sandwich with a filling of CO2? A half-hearted proposal from back in 2010 by Quadrangle Architects suggested partially roofing the Gardiner and planting an seven kilometre walkable park up top. The "Green Ribbon" didn't make it beyond the concept stage but there's always a chance, right?
Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.