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Rival councillors united on Fort York bridge plan

An artist's rendering of the Fort York bridge.

Rival city councillors have struck peace over Toronto's most famous site of war.

Six months after an public works meeting ended in acrimony and accusations that suburban councillors loyal to Mayor Rob Ford had spiked plans for a bridge in a downtown ward out of spite, the two sides settled on a cheaper new design on Thursday.

"Absolutely I feel vindicated," said Councillor David Shiner, who incurred the brunt of the left-leaning faction's wrath for introducing a motion that many believed would effectively kill the Fort York Pedestrian and Cycle Bridge last April. "I said then, 'I'm not trying kill a bridge, I just want to do it within a budget that we can afford to do it.'"

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The committee green-lighted three designs priced from $18-million to $20-million, and handed responsibility for choosing a final model to city planners. The three designs are shorter than the original, but retain much of its curved configuration. The new plan would use at least $5-million in municipal levies on nearby developments and also incorporate sales of adjacent lands – the so-called Ordnance Triangle – to offset the final cost.

The original Fork York bridge design consisted of two curved 100-metres decks crossing from Stanley Park (near the intersection of Wellington Street West and Strachan Avenue) to the western tip of Fort York, currently isolated from foot or bike traffic by roadways and concrete. The intent was to liberate the historic site from its concrete surroundings and connect the downtown with booming developments along the lakeshore currently separated by railroad tracks and the Gardiner Expressway.

But the $26-million price-tag – $4.4-million of which was financed by the fund intended for refurbishing old city bridges – proved too dear for right-leaning councillors who voted to defer its construction. That decision meant the city would lose a brief construction window offered by Metrolinx that would have timed the bridge's opening for War of 1812 bicentennial celebrations next year.

In the weeks following that spring decision, residents and urban planning buffs launched an backlash campaign that gave local Councillor Mike Layton a formidable mandate to work both in public and behind the scenes to keep bridge plans alive.

In recent weeks, he said he has been working closely on designs with the mayor's office and Mr. Shiner – the very councillor he once admonished for deep-sixing the bridge.

"We were all rowing in the same direction to get maximum possible value out of the site," Mr. Layton said. "There was a lot of negotiation getting all sides to come together to make sure we ended up getting an appropriate bridge, the park and what will hopefully be a good development down there."

Rather than rely on one central span supported by a column, the new plans actually propose two separate spans connected in the middle by an earth berm that would provide access to a park and residential developments to be built on and around the Ordnance lands.

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"The first bridge actually skipped over the 1,000 people who will be located in that quadrant and gave them no connectivity," said Mr. Shiner. "This is a better plan, this is a tremendous plan."

The bridge is still a long way off: Metrolinx won't be able to provide another construction window until 2014, well after the bicentennial. That didn't seem to bother Mr. Shiner.

"I don't think any American coming up here to celebrate us beating them in the War of 1812 is really going to be upset that we don't have a bridge to celebrate," he said.

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About the Author
National reporter

Patrick previously worked in the Globe's Winnipeg bureau, covering the Prairies and Nunavut, and at Toronto City Hall. He is a National Magazine Award recipient and author of the book Mountie In Mukluks. More

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