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Gardiner Expressway repairs to cause traffic headache for a decade

A City of Toronto employee holds a chunk of concrete that fell from the Gardiner Expressway onto Parkside Drive near Lake Shore Boulevard West in Toronto on May 10, 2012.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Be prepared to stop – for the next 10 years. The city is about to begin a multimillion-dollar fix of the aging Gardiner Expressway that will reduce lanes and close ramps on one of Toronto's busiest roadways over the course of a decade.

Major work is set to begin at the eastern end of the highway next year, moving west, but the headaches will start this summer with closings for up to six weeks of the eastbound exit ramp to Jarvis Street and the eastbound onramp from Bay Street.

The city is expecting to spend between $10-million and $15-million in each of the next 10 years on the project, which will eat up about 10 per cent of the total road repair budget. The reconstruction work is designed to repair the corrosion caused by road salt and years of thawing and freezing – the kind of damage that this month sent cement chunks tumbling from the elevated highway on two occasions.

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Such a huge outlay of cash to keep the highway bridges standing also lays to rest any talk of taking down the expressway at least in the near future.

"It will be a significant disruption," said Peter Crockett, executive-director of technical services for the city's public works department. "Bottom line is the Gardiner Expressway was built in the 1950s, 1960s," he said and it is ready for significant maintenance.

At various points in the project, Mr. Crockett said lanes will be closed on Yonge and Bay streets and Lakeshore Boulevard, as well as on the expressway.

As for the safety of the seven kilometres of raised roadway, Mr. Crockett said it is structurally sound, despite the recent spate of falling concrete. Staff have increased inspections, he said, and are installing mesh in trouble spots to prevent more chunks from falling.

He predicted the extensive repairs will extend the life of the expressway for another 25 years.

Public Works chair Denzil Minnan-Wong said the city will do all it can to minimize the disruption by scheduling work for the less-busy summer months and staging the project. His advice to drivers: "They have to have some level of patience because when you have an elevated expressway, work just needs to get done."

While fixing the road is costly, Mr. Minnan-Wong said taking it down, an idea floated by former mayor David Miller, would be an even greater drain on the city's financial resources. "The Gardiner is an expensive piece of infrastructure that's needed. To take it down and replace it would be far more [expensive] It's just a simple reality," he said.

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Mr. Crockett estimated the cost of taking down the Gardiner would be "a large number," but said staff have not done that calculation.

In 2008, Toronto city council gave approval for an environmental assessment (EA) that would consider dismantling the highway east of Jarvis Street.

Waterfront Toronto, an agency funded by the city, province and federal government, was responsible for the EA. Although the project is still listed on the agency's website, David Kusturin, Waterfront's chief operating officer, said Wednesday it was put on hold in the fall of 2010 – about the same time Rob Ford became mayor.

Mr. Kusturin described that move as a "joint decision" taken with other levels of government as part of the annual planning process.

About $3-million was spent to that point on the terms of reference for the EA, he said. The remaining budget – between $4.3-million and $4.4-million was reallocated to "other waterfront projects that had greater priority," he said. "For the moment, it is on the shelf."

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