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City staff recommend against burying Gardiner expressway

City crews inspect, and knock off loose concrete on the underside of the Gardiner Expressway, east of Bathurst Street Toronto on June 21, 2011.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Toronto city staff are recommending against burying a portion of the eastern Gardiner, calling it a technically challenging and overly pricey fix for the crumbling expressway.

In a media briefing Tuesday, leading bureaucrats fleshed out details on the various ways to deal with a two-kilometre stretch of the Gardiner from Jarvis to the Don, with pricetags that ranged up to close to $1-billion. With all of the options currently on the table, Waterfront Toronto vice-president of planning and design Chris Glaisek said, "there will be enough capacity."

With four basic approaches settled on, city staff will now go to the public, starting Wednesday evening at the Toronto Reference Library. There will be at least one more public meeting, some time this winter, and residents can also provide input at http://www.gardinereast.ca/.

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A preferred option, or possibly a shortlist, will be presented to city council in February or March of 2014, said deputy city manager John Livey. If the choice is approved by municipal politicians, environmental assessments could begin the following year. Engineering would not be expected to start until 2018 at the earliest, Mr. Livey said, though he noted that one option – to rehabilitate the existing structure but otherwise leave it as is – would proceed more quickly.

MAINTAIN

The simplest and cheapest option will repair the expressway but not change it much beyond that. Budgeted at around $235-million, and currently funded, this is the default option, should councillors not approve a more radical solution.

The plan would involve redecking the highway, a small amount of additional green space and moving a stretch of the Lake Shore – most of the way from Cherry Street to the Don Roadway – a bit to the north.

This shift is billed as a way to open up access to the Keating Channel with a public promenade and to create space under the Gardiner for recreation.

REMOVE

The next cheapest option would leave a very different streetscape. Removing this stretch of the Gardiner and replacing it with a broad street-level boulevard would have a projected capital cost of $240-million to $360-million (city staff stress that cost estimates are very preliminary).

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The result would be either an eight- or 10-lane thoroughfare, less broad than University, with a median planted with trees. Beside the road would be a multiuse trail and there would be additional green space on both sides of the boulevard.

City projections say that this option would add between five and 10 minutes to travel times downtown from various destinations in the east end.

IMPROVE

A third option is to retain much of the current elevated highway but tweak it to make the streetscape more attractive. The most obvious change would be a new split in the roadway, creating a gap as wide as 6.9 metres. Doing so would allow natural light to reach Lake Shore, where there would be a grassed median.

This option also calls for a multiuse trail and more greenery, as well as the possibility of skate-parks or other recreation facilities and public art. The capital cost of this option is estimated to be between $420-million and $630-million.

Staff projections say it will add up to five minutes to commute times downtown.

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REPLACE

In spite of perennial calls to bury the Gardiner, city staff have effectively taken that off the table as expensive and technically challenging, with too little upside.

An expressway suspended over the train tracks has also been ruled out because of rail operation restrictions. But if council wants to replace the expressway with a similar structure, staff are proposing a new elevated road that would have a more modern construction and be less obtrusive than the current Gardiner.

The city notes that this would allow for greater light and, with Lake Shore's width reduced, more development potential, green space and room for cyclists and pedestrians.

This option is estimated to cost between $610-million and $910-million and would not affect commute times, according to staff projections.

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About the Author

Oliver Moore joined the Globe and Mail's web newsroom in 2000 as an editor and then moved into reporting. A native Torontonian, he served four years as Atlantic Bureau Chief and has worked also in Afghanistan, Grenada, France, Spain and the United States. More

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