Nine out of 10 people in Toronto and the surrounding region think traffic congestion has reached "crisis proportions" and they are increasingly willing to consider radical solutions to gridlock, a new poll suggests.
A majority would even support the construction of an underground pay-as-you-go option to the Gardiner Expressway, according to the survey by Environics Research that was made available to The Globe and Mail
The study found that 52 per cent "somewhat support" and 26 per cent "strongly support" building a subterranean toll highway from the Humber River to the Don Valley Parkway underneath the Gardiner.
The idea is far-fetched – at about 12 kilometres, such a project would be one of the longest road tunnels in the world – but the apparent support is further evidence Torontonians and suburbanites alike are ready to put all options on the table to solve the region's transportation crunch.
"Transportation and transit issues are so very much at the forefront of peoples' minds that there's a willingness to look at all sorts of creative and innovative solutions to the problems that face this city," said Darren Karasiuk, vice-president of corporate and public affairs at Environics.
Perhaps most surprisingly, levels of support for the idea are relatively consistent across all the GTA's municipalities and various demographic groups, including age, income and education levels. In the city, support for the idea sits at 77 per cent; in the 905, it is 80 per cent.
"The thing that's most surprising is that in Toronto proper, you have high support for this, when by all rights, they are the people who will benefit least," Mr. Karasiuk said. "There's a recognition that clearly this is a regional issue."
As part of the same poll, 90 per cent of respondents agreed that GTA traffic had "reached crisis proportions" – an increase of more than 20 per cent from a similar poll in late 2010.
These findings could indicate that the raucous debates over transit planning at City Hall in recent months have been shifting public perception of the city's transport problems.
This new poll is consistent with previous Environics research that suggested GTA residents would support a new sales tax to pay for transit and other infrastructure.
Taken together, the surveys suggest politicians may have more latitude when proposing ideas for fixing the city's traffic woes. So far, civic and provincial leaders have been largely allergic to championing extra tolls or taxes, revenue tools that have been used in other cities.
The consequences of the GTA's gridlock are drastic: The Toronto Board of Trade estimates the region suffers $6-billion in lost productivity every year because so many people are stuck in traffic or navigating the overloaded public-transit network.
The Environics poll consisted of an online panel of 1,042 people chosen to represent the demographic makeup of the GTA. For this method, a margin of error cannot be calculated. Respondents were asked whether they "strongly support," "somewhat support," "somewhat oppose" or "strongly oppose" the underground toll highway concept.