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Dormant study on Gardiner awaits council resurrection

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

A long-dormant study into tearing down the eastern leg of the Gardiner Expressway could be up and running within weeks if city council gives its okay, the head of Waterfront Toronto says.

The controversial plan to demolish the expressway east of Jarvis Street is the subject of an $8-million environmental assessment that was quietly put on the shelf by staff during the past municipal election. With staff now estimating it will cost more than half-a-billion dollars to fix the raised expressway, a growing number of councillors are questioning the wisdom of that decision.

John Campbell, head of Waterfront Toronto, the agency in charge of the study and redevelopment of the city's shoreline, said his staff has already determined it is possible to resume work on the study in "a month or less."

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"We're already looking now at what it would take," Mr. Campbell said. "We want to be ready if council asks us to restart it." Toronto council will have a chance to debate the future of the aging expressway next month when they approve the 2013 budget, which includes a 10-year, $505-million plan to rebuild the elevated portions of the highway. City Manager Joe Pennachetti has made it clear that as part of that discussion council needs to decide quickly whether it wants to pay to maintain the crumbling roadway or look at other options.

Mr. Pennachetti said he favours looking at a range of options beyond repairs, including taking down all or part of the raised portions of the Gardiner, and the costly alternative of a tunnel.

While no work has been done on the study for more than two years, Mr. Campbell said it has never been officially stopped. "We're still essentially waiting for council's direction," he said.

Since Mayor Rob Ford took office in December, 2010, Waterfront Toronto has made no effort to contact the city or council to seek direction, he said.

"We have lots of other things to do," he said. "We have more projects that we have money for."

If council gives the green light to dust off the study, he said Waterfront Toronto will have to reallocate funding, but predicted that would not be a problem. He estimated it would take two years to complete the study and another six to 12 months for it to get provincial approval, if there are no strong objections to the plan.

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