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The Gardiner Expressway won't be fixed any time soon

Posted by Chris Bateman / February 5, 2014

toronto gardiner expresswayWaterfront Toronto and staff from the City of Toronto shed more light on the future of the eastern Gardiner Expressway this afternoon, revealing the results of an environmental assessment into four possible options: maintain, improve, replace, or remove.

There's no official recommendation yet - that will come at the March Public Works and Infrastructure committee meeting - but evidence presented today suggests the best way to deal with the dilapidated 2.4 km stretch of Gardiner Expressway east of Jarvis Street is to knock it down.

That said, it's really not that simple, and any decision will take decades to realize.

Demolishing the road is the cheapest and quickest option, according to the EA, but it would require drastically altering Lake Shore Blvd. and would ultimately lead to the steepest increase in travel times - somewhere in the region of 15 minutes in each direction - in and out of downtown.

In fact, every scenario forecasts an increase in travel times, on average 5 to 10 minutes per trip, by 2031 even with a Yonge relief line, East Bayfront LRT, and improvements to GO services. Waterfront Toronto and the city assume all three of these features will be in place or close to completion by the time Gardiner work finishes.

The chart below shows the traffic light system staff used to compare the various options. Green represents the best result and red the worst.

toronto gardinerCouncillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the public works committee, spoke out against demolition, saying it would lead to worse commute times and more inconvenience for drivers. "You are removing one barrier and replacing it with another," he said.

Councillor Paula Fletcher, whose ward neighbours the east Gardiner, said she's open to removal for the long-term health of the waterfront and the economy. "Everybody in Toronto has to have a good think," she said. "Let's just say it's not easy. This not an easy decision, it's not an easy discussion."

The elevated highway has shown its age in recent years, dropping substantial chunks of concrete onto Lake Shore Blvd., one of which hit a car in June 2012. The issue stems from water seeping into the support structure, rusting the rebar and expanding when it freezes.

Rob Ford said yesterday he expects a fight to keep the Gardiner standing. "I think staff and I are on a different page. I think staff want to tear it down and I want to maintain it just like most Torontonians do," CP24 reported. "It moves 4,500 people every hour, so that's a lot. We have to keep it."

In 2001, the elevated section of Gardiner between the Don Valley Parkway and Leslie St., a section of road built in anticipation of a highway through Scarborough to the 401, was demolished in order to save on a potentially costly repair bill.

In March, Waterfront Toronto and city staff will present their formal recommendation to the public works committee. The item will then head to city council, possibly in the spring, for final approval on the preferred course of action.

If council votes in favour of the recommendation, the idea will be fully fleshed out and presented for approval during the next term of council. It could be 2019 or 2020 before shovels enter the ground and closer to 2031 before work is complete.

Here are the options as outlined today:


toronto gardinerStatus quo. Keep fixing the Gardiner per the existing schedule using money set aside in the 10-year capital plan. The road configuration above and below the highway would remain largely unchanged, though Lake Shore Blvd. would be re-routed at Cherry St.

TIME: 6 years of lane closures on the Gardiner and Lake Shore Blvd.
COST: $535 million (2013)


toronto gardinerWork in phases to reshape and improve the existing structure. The number of highway lanes would be reduced to four to make way for an emergency shoulder. Down below, Lake Shore would get public realm improvements and a new cycling trail, plus other tweaks.

TIME: 6 years of lane closures on the Gardiner and Lake Shore Blvd.
COST: $865 million (2013)


toronto gardinerDemolish the Gardiner and build a brand new, taller elevated highway, most likely with a central support that improves visibility and sunlight below. Lake Shore Blvd. would see a series of improvements, including a bike trail and new parks.

TIME: 8 years of no Gardiner or Lake Shore Blvd. access.
COST: $1.3 billion (2013)


toronto gardinerDemolish the Gardiner in favour of a new 8-lane, tree-lined Lake Shore Blvd. There would be dedicated turning lanes, new sidewalks, and a cycling trail on the south side but traffic would be required to stop at traffic lights at all major intersections. A ramp at Jarvis St. would lead up to the remaining portion of highway.

TIME: 3 years of lane closures on both roads.
COST: $470 million (2013)

What do you think of the options? Is knocking down the Gardiner really the best choice? Can Toronto build the transit infrastructure it needs to make the Gardiner viable?

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Image: Waterfront Toronto



Chester / February 5, 2014 at 05:38 pm
Ideally I think it should be removed. Rip it off like a dry bandaid. People will scream and yell and maybe some might not get re-elected (OMG). But in the end its the best option. Once the improvements are made, people will see the big picture. I would take the money from the difference of the improve scenario and demolish one to improve transit infrastructure down there which is a mess.

All I'm saying is be careful what you wish for. A full demolition and redevelopment will mean developers will be throwing big dollars at the city to get what they want. Which in the end will only benefit them and not the citizens.
Sacha / February 5, 2014 at 05:51 pm
Bury it, dammit. There's no reason we can't. At $2B, it's worth the cost over an elevated replacement.

Give Rob Ford his 'subway'.
Sean / February 5, 2014 at 05:51 pm
I'm generally in favour of removing it east of Jarvis, but I'm curious how the DVP/Lakeshore intersection would be handled/designed.
Tyson / February 5, 2014 at 05:58 pm
Removal does look like the best option, but the only way that it would be viable would be to find another way to move people into and out of the downtown core from the west. The gardiner definitely wasn't the most terrible thing to happen to the city, but to keep maintaining it is just throwing money away, and there has to be a better option out there than an elevated highway.
rob ford, King / February 5, 2014 at 06:06 pm
We are extending it, putzes!
Holy Thundering Jesus / February 5, 2014 at 06:13 pm
Tear the entire piece of crap down, I lived down on The Harbourfront during the 90's pieces of concrete are constantly falling off the underside. Actually have seen pieces fall and hit people and cars. It will only get worse, especially after a harsh winter like we are having now. Put a park/green belt in it's place.
Matt / February 5, 2014 at 06:13 pm
As someone who lives in the vicinity of this thing let me say I'm all for getting rid of it. It's an eyesore, its unsafe and its costing way too much to maintain. I get that it keeps traffic moving but at some point it's got to go. This should have been tackled 10 years ago and maybe today we'd have a working solution. Typical Toronto Council. Utterly useless. Let's have meetings about meetings. Let's contract 100 different studies about studies about a project. Just get on with it already.
iamthecalm / February 5, 2014 at 06:58 pm
obviously a full assessment from all parties affected must be done, but surely maintaining it is a bandaid solution which is just pushing the decision back a decade or so. we have a serious problem in this city with our shortsighted thinking, not looking at the long term benefits.

also, just throwing it out there. i cringe every time i see "like most Torontonians do" come out of rob fords mouth. i know it's the political game speaking, but he is never held accountable for his continuous stream of outright lies and half truths. reporters need to ask less questions about his personal life and more about the accuracy of his statements.
dylan / February 5, 2014 at 07:32 pm
do like Montreal - autoroute Bonaventure
Jordan / February 5, 2014 at 08:02 pm
I think it should be reinforced that this is only about the eastern end of the gardiner - the rest of it isn't moving. And everyone should probably take those travel times with a grain of salt - traffic engineering has about the same accuracy as the weather man.

All that being said - something major does need to happen here - the existing gardiner is going to kill someone one of these days. I don't want to be the guy with a chunk of concrete in my windshield.

Franco / February 5, 2014 at 08:23 pm
Remove it. It needs to go.
Rodemund / February 5, 2014 at 08:37 pm
Tear down the road itself, keep/reinforce the pillars. Turn it into the "Lakeshore LRT"!

remy / February 5, 2014 at 09:58 pm
dingle dangle
Allan WJjanssen / February 5, 2014 at 10:20 pm
They should do what Boston did and bury it!
Talkie / February 5, 2014 at 10:41 pm
Obviously most of these posters don't actually need to use the Gardiner to cross the city going from The west to the east and back again several times daily. There is no other sane way to travel across the bottom of the city. You really want even more cars clogging up King or Queen Streets? Where money should be going is into trains, the frequency of them and not wasting money in renaming Union Station.
IBTHT / February 5, 2014 at 11:18 pm
Yes, yes, yes. Tear down the Gardiner. Further, take half of the lanes and turn them into bike lanes. Take another lane and turn it into a walking lane. Take another lane, turn it into a lane that looks really pretty...maybe plant some flowers in it...an no one can use it for anything (except the folks that water the plants, if they're quick that is.) Lets just do it all... And what happens to traffic and gridlock? Who cares.....

Seriously folks, what happens when traffic gets so severe that the city becomes unlivable? I've already heard several people start to say that they don't go out as often, because traffic is so bad. The health and livability of the city is at stake.

rakesh / February 5, 2014 at 11:37 pm
Take the effing bus, subway, GO train (Share a car - worst case scenario; less traffic). Not everybody needs to drive. Cities shouldn't be build around cars. This is not the 70s.

Build subways, LRTs, bike lanes. Beautify streets, bury the power lines, more parks, squares etc. Make living in the city affordable for everyone (high, medium, low income). Don't give the developers a free hand. Elect councillors who actually care about the city. The end.
iSkyscraper / February 6, 2014 at 12:30 am
I've commented on this ad nauseum, with links to how other cities removed their elevated expressways, why traffic is elastic, etc. This really is not that hard of a decision when you look at all of the case studies around the world.

I can't be bothered contantly educating low-information Fordies, so I'll make this easy.


It will work, and cost less.

Bobby / February 6, 2014 at 01:17 am
As a driver, I never thought I'd agree with removing it, but after looking at the other options, it seems like the only sane thing to do.

8 years of construction? No thanks.

One billion dollars for a highway that moves only 4,500 people an hour? That's less people than fit on 3 GO trains.
E. Toby Coke / February 6, 2014 at 06:55 am
Love how the renderings depict heavy pedestrian traffic ... and very few cars! In reality, this would be a jammed-up, hardworking arterial road through a tight forest of glass condos, not a quaint little street, or a grand-scale boulevard like Chicago has.

Dig the cyclist running the light in the "Replace" rendering.
rob replying to a comment from E. Toby Coke / February 6, 2014 at 08:06 am
Look again the cyclist is with the lights in each rendering. It can be whatever is planned and built to be, A grand boulevard, one is under construction in that area. Going directly to a negative doomsday scenario is not a discussion. Learn something you are not the only person that lives in Toronto.
DL / February 6, 2014 at 08:49 am
Tunnel it from the Ex on. Toll it. Once the tolls pay for the construction, use the toll revenue on building new transit. Make the toll reasonable so people don't lose their collective minds. Why is this so very difficult? There are cities who would look at the last 20 years of Gardiner arguments and be extremely perplexed by our current situation.
asgadaasf / February 6, 2014 at 08:53 am
Why not rebuild it above the rail line, and turn lakeshore into a 4 lane small scale city street?
J / February 6, 2014 at 09:47 am
Okay - so if every scenario increases times by 5 to 10 minutes, and the worst case is possibly 15. That's all of 5 minutes we're talking about. +/- 5 minutes doesn't seem to justify spending millions of dollars for eternity trying to keep the thing up, let alone billions to dig a tunnel. It's 5 minutes!

CW / February 6, 2014 at 10:09 am
Like Sean I too am curious about the DVP to Gardiner ramps. I just cant see how putting city streets between two highways can make the area safe. While trying to traverse the two highways people will be in that fast mode just trying to get back on.

We will still have an obstacle of railway tracks to contend with. Those wont be going anywhere.
pat / February 6, 2014 at 10:17 am
With major venues so clustered down at the waterfront, such as the arena, stadium, convention centre, opera house, o'keefe centre (or whatever it is called now), exhibition, how will the roads look like if there is no Gardiner and multiple events at these venues start or end at the same time? You can't expect everyone who comes from a sizeable distance to pile onto a GO train. It seems like it is already really bad around game times.
Kat / February 6, 2014 at 10:27 am
The heavy traffic always starts west of Yonge. No need for the eyesore east of yonge. Tear down that thing and clean up the waterfront for all to use.
City Engnr / February 6, 2014 at 10:39 am
I live right beside the Gardiner at York/Queens Quay. It's fine, it's safe, and it's NECESSARY. I love how the cars go above my head while I can easily cross Lake Shore. I love driving on the Gardiner and appreciating this beautiful city. It's the best way to get into/out of downtown to places like Markham/Vaughan. If you want cars out of downtown core, simply continue to increase parking fees. Heck it keeps me out. I walk to work or taxi if I need to go DT core.

The removal option has a lot of pretty marketing. But keep in mind it's only $66mil cheaper!! The Eglinton LRT alone is $5,000 million! If removed, during rush hour the removed portion is going be jammed packed. Leaking oils from slow cars will stain the nice new pavement. Pedestrians won't be able to cross. MORE freight will be forced on the 401.

Good grief people. Just relax, the Gardener didn't topple over. All good things need to be maintained and people don't appreciate the cost of maintenance. For example, the water projects I work on have infrastructure that are well over 100 years old. No one cares because they don't see it, it's not a sexy topic for the citizens to discuss so it's doesn't get fixed.

And just fyi, most of these politicians don't care about the engineering or the costs. They just want your votes. They are experts at selling good OR bad ideas. In reality, all these options are not terrible. But imo we should be focused on improving the TTC and highways rather than worrying about this tiny stretch of the Gardiner.

E. Toby Coke replying to a comment from rob / February 6, 2014 at 10:44 am
Oh rob. Nice ad hominem attack! But let me address your (weak) points.

"Look again the cyclist is with the lights in each rendering."

Nope, he's turning left through pedestrians in the one I cited. Or maybe the pedestrians are jaywalking. Whatever -- I just thought it was funny.

"A grand boulevard, one is under construction in that area."

You mean Queen's Quay? That's not going to be a grand boulevard. That's more like a local street. Fantastic for strolling, not great for getting anywhere. And that's fine for what it is.

My time in Paris convinced me that a city does need a few arterials that can circulate traffic efficiently. They don't have to be high-speed or ugly -- but they need to FLOW. Flow is good. Not sure if anyone really grasps that, on either end of this stupidly polarized debate.

City Engnr replying to a comment from Chester / February 6, 2014 at 10:49 am
65 million saved? More like 65 not spent.

Anyways, 65 million buys you a bag of chips in the transit world. And TRUST me, the real costs will probably be closer to 1 billion to remove and build a new boulevard. Just the logistics and staging along is going to be an utter nightmare.
first replying to a comment from IBTHT / February 6, 2014 at 11:07 am
yes lets take it down.

Then when you need medical supplies delivered we will make them take the ever efficient and always on time TTC.

Oh wait?

Why not create a tunnel and move cars underground.
Then with the Gardner create the worlds largest above ground park with a street car/lrt or what have you. No bus.
plants animals etc etc. it would be great.
but first put traffic underground. Then charge parking at a
McRib replying to a comment from City Engnr / February 6, 2014 at 11:11 am
$65 million cheaper? I guess as an engineer you care little for the cost of upkeep. Over the course of 100 years it will cost an additional $455 million to keep the Gardiner going, as opposed to $140 million to maintain the new Lakeshore avenue. So that is spending $1 billion to keep the status quo.

brilliant forward planning.
McRib replying to a comment from City Engnr / February 6, 2014 at 11:14 am
actually, sorry, its $525 million in maintenance and $345 million just to make the needed repairs right now.

So thats a total of $470 million for remove and replace with boulevard.

And $870 million just to keep it as it is.

hmmmm, now what is the better option.
Peter / February 6, 2014 at 12:01 pm
Good grief there trying to cripple the city, it doesn't matter how the raised highway looks, it's a nesisity! The big problem with the Gardner has been poorly maintained for years! And has been allowed to deteriate to the sad state it's in now, if you ask me if they take it down there is going to be nothing but grid lock and chaos on lakeshore, then people are going to be complaining about the insane amount do traffic, and the toxic fumes from the cars and trucks sitting idle in traffic, if you look at city's in the states the have elevated highways and subways running threw there residential area! I think the people of Toronto just need to stop being such big snobs
iSkyscraper replying to a comment from Peter / February 6, 2014 at 12:47 pm
"it's a nesisity!"

See what I mean? Low-information Fordies. Who somehow idolize Detroit or Rochester as ideal cities, since of course they don't actually live in true urban areas and therefore only consider them something to drive through (preferably over).

Please go read Tom Vanderbilt's "Traffic" and then we'll talk about how to manage flows. Many other cities have been through this, I know you don't know that, but it can be done.

Enough uninformed comments!
Peter... replying to a comment from Peter / February 6, 2014 at 01:40 pm
...has never lived in Toronto. The entire time I've lived in this city they've been fixing the Gardiner. Sadly, it either has to stay up or be buried, one or the other. A widened-Lakeshore won't cut it. We gotta bite the financial bullet and bury the thing.
bjws / February 6, 2014 at 02:20 pm
Burying the thing is the only real and reasonable option. Any other option is silly and any mention of it by any politician should result in instant political ban. Let's do what is right for the city for once!

But realistically, in 20 years we will still be reading about environmental assessments and what some "expert" says. Toronto sucks when it comes to these projects.
Ms.Enginr / February 6, 2014 at 11:17 pm
LOL. When I first heard the news about the tear down, it made perfect sense to me. Then I heard from a birdie they're already talking condo developments down there. Guess I should've known better because that is city councils number one solution (their only solution) to every problem we have in this city, like: Ontario Place (replaced by condo development), the older motels , hotels and inns on Lakeshore (replaced by condo development); Princess of Whales Theatre and surrounding area (talking condo development); Honest Eds (condo development); repair TCHC under the false guise of redevelopment (condo developments, that's plural) etc.

Hope you get your 8 lanes.
MER1978 / February 7, 2014 at 11:38 am
"Burying the thing is the only real and reasonable option. Any other option is silly and any mention of it by any politician should result in instant political ban. Let's do what is right for the city for once!"

Why should we blow an insane amount of money for a section of highway which is much less used than the roads that it connects to?

St. Clair estimate ($65 million) vs. actual cost ($106 million) = DISASTER !!!

Boston's Big Dig estimate ($6 billion) vs. actual cost ($22 billion)... GENIUS idea we should immediately copy.
Spike replying to a comment from DL / February 7, 2014 at 02:11 pm
Most of the people in Toronto (citizens and politicians) need to take 'studycations' (study vacations) to learn about how other cities have dealt with this; I'd suggest that Christopher Hume be the leader of said tours (taken to places in Europe and Scandinavia, and also in the USA) to show them how cities have built things like LRT lines and underground highways, so that they can come back and get what's in those cities built here in Toronto. We need this to break our inertia about what's to be done with the Gardiner.

@MER1978; Excuse me, but what was wrong with how St. Clair was revitalized again? Please stop believing bullcrap about how it was a disaster based on whatever old crappy businesses had gone out of business based on what hardships they suffered during the revitalization of St. Clair.
Isaac replying to a comment from asgadaasf / February 7, 2014 at 06:38 pm
I like that idea...
Spacehawk / July 15, 2014 at 04:13 am
My idea is wild, and pretty darn expensive. It's a combination of two ideas, and during construction, the Gardiner Expwy can still remain open. Dare to dram shall we?

1. Build an eastbound tunnel west of the Exhibition grounds, comes back up around Jarvis. The route continues to east as is today.

2. Build a cable-stayed bridge for westbound traffic, starting west of DVP, all the way past Exhibition grounds. The bridge runs right over the CN tracks.

The bridge option can also have dedicated LRT tracks, and perhaps a lower level for pedestrian and cycling traffic.

During construction, the Gardiner continues to function with little interference. The divided routes will gradually phase in, and then the older elevated section of the Gardiner can be demolished.

Then, the possibilities of Lakeshore Blvd can come to play (bike lanes, tree lined pathways and parkettes, etc.)

This would be a massive undertaking on all levels (permission needed to build over CN tracks is one of them). Price tag? Well, tolling should not be ignored. As simple as that.

From reading previous posts, there are "haters" who want to rid the expressway and hope for peace and harmony with bike riders and very little vehicular traffic among a promenade of strollers. Not happening.

I know my idea is crazy in terms of cost, but it's an idea that meets the needs of beautifying the city (imagine Fort York without the overpass in the background) as well the needs of the moving city (cars and TTC).

The reason why we don't get anywhere is we are stuck on not wanting to repeat mistakes of the past to preserve homes, parks, and the beauty of the city (think of major highway developments, including some that never materialized like the Crosstown, Richview, and Allen expressways) and stuck on NOT accepting that Toronto has quickly before our eyes grew into the largest city in Canada--a financial Mecca for the nation--a world-class metropolis with events to draw visitors nation and worldwide. Let's not be blind to this and favour one over the other. Meeting in the middle seems mediocre, which is where we still are. Why not have it both ways? We got to think big, heck, a little faith doesn't hurt.

And by the way, no complaints of another overpass being an eyesore. The dozens of condos are blocking the waterfront view, so just head down to Harbourfront, the Beaches, the Islands to see our beautiful lake. And no complaints of tunnels being expensive and damaging the ecological make-up of Toronto's waterfront. Hasn't it been damaged already with the condos, the Exhibition grounds (that's a pavement paradise)? The Island Airport already has a pedestrian tunnel being built under water. Montreal had a head start in the highway boom, and they got tunnels. Have you travelled through them to get through downtown? Wow. amazing. You know what else is amazing. Cuba. Yes, even Havana has tunnels to get in and out of the city. Havana, folks. C'mon, now.

Anyway, that's my take on it. Comments?
Fedor / June 15, 2015 at 04:55 am
Im kinda late responding, but who cares. Anyways, I think the city of Toronto should demolish the gard east and put it underground. Then design a new grand boulevard above it. The city is acting like the money is scare, but if they toll it then there is revenue. I believe all Toronto highways and expressways should be tolls. Its very common is world class cities.
Other Cities: Montreal