What Do We Do About The Gardiner?

There’s been a lot of press about this lately, and I’ve actually changed my stance on the matter.

I’d like to hear from as many readers as possible however, as I’m curious to know what “solutions” people would propose…

I’m going to share a story with you all, that might be an out-of-place analogy, might lend some substance to the Gardiner discussion, or might just be a complete and utter over-share…

When I was 15-years-old, I had severe issues with acne.

I was, to be perfectly blunt “that guy” at your school that you all knew had it the worst of anybody, that you all felt bad for, and that you all thanked God wasn’t you.

I went for treatments (who knew the medication made people crazy??), and the doctors said right from the start: “It’s going to get worse, before it gets better.”

To me, that almost defeated the purpose.

I wanted it better NOW, not later.  I didn’t want to go another day with things the way they were!

Why make it worse first?  What kind of solution was that?

My doctors told me that they could find a band-aid solution, but it would slow down the overall process, and it would only ensure that it took longer, and was made far more difficult in the long-term.  They told me, “Think about the long-term, you have your whole life ahead of you.”  But all I could think about was the next few months, and getting rid of what ailed me.  I fully supported the band-aid solution!

Sure enough, we went with the doctors’ plan (I guess you should listen to somebody with 40 years of medical training…) and things did, in fact, get worse before they got better.  But looking back on it, this was the right call; the only call, and it represented the safest most effective way to deal with the problem.

You see where this is going, right?

Maybe that was a weird analogy; I don’t know.  But upon reading a column in the Globe & Mail the other day, and seeing the line “It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” I immediately thought of my problems back in Grade-10 and how that line was practically my mantra.

The problems with the Gardiner Expressway can no longer be over-looked.

There’s been a half-dozen articles in the Globe and the Post in the past week, and suddenly, this is one again a hot-button topic.

From Paul Gauvreau’s article in The Globe & Mail on December 14th:

“New revelations of serious problems with Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway add urgency to the debate over what should be done with this structure. The ongoing chipping and patching of concrete can only be justified as a temporary stopgap until a long-term strategy for its future has been developed and implemented. Unfortunately, there has been very little progress. Given that the deficiencies now bring into question the ability of the structure to carry its specified loads, it would appear that the time to make tough decisions is indeed upon us. We need to make sure that, in our haste to formulate a plan, we can still find a way to make the right decisions.

A current estimate places the cost to repair the Gardiner at $505-million. This work is expected to halt deterioration and restore the expressway to an acceptable state of structural integrity. Although this price tag is high by any measure, the total cost of this course of action will be much higher. Once the repairs are complete, it will be necessary for the City of Toronto to commit to a program of regular preventive maintenance to ensure that future generations of taxpayers do not have to suffer through another round of costly and disruptive major repairs. The operating costs take on particular significance, given that much of the mess we’re facing can be directly attributed to a lack of adequate maintenance over the Gardiner’s 50-year life.”

That’s just an excerpt, however, I have to draw attention to this one line that came later in the article:

“Unfortunately, public agencies in Canada have had a disproportionate focus on minimizing risk. All other things being equal, the easiest way to accomplish this goal is to do the same thing over and over….This attitude is reflected in the current practice of selecting engineers for public works projects solely on the basis of lowest engineering fee.”

Mr. Gauvreau is not a Globe columnist, but rather a professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Toronto.  If anybody is qualified to make such a statement, it would be he.

I used to think it was a ridiculous notion to tear down the Gardiner Expressway.

All I could think about was how often I use the highway in my excursions to the city’s west end, to show houses and condos, or to visit friends.

But in recent years, I have changed my tune.

I’m in favour of action that makes our city better in the long run, and I’m willing to take it on the chin in the short-term.

I’ve stated emphatically that we need to spend more money on TTC, roads, subways, and any and all method of transportation, even though I drive a car, and never take the TTC.

I’m in favour of higher property taxes, so long as it goes towards building subways – something I’ll never use.

I’d pay a “fee” to drive my car in the downtown car during the day, if regulations came into effect that limited cars from 9am – 5pm on weekdays, save for taxis, buses, delivery vehicles, and those people wishing to pay a “fee” for usage.

I would gladly pay higher personal income taxes if it meant putting money toward parks, sporting facilities, community centres, and other areas that keep Toronto’s youth busy, as I believe part of the way to keep them out of trouble is to keep them occupied.  I don’t have kids, I don’t live in a high-crime area, and I’m not affected by the “problems” that go on in Scarborough or north of the city, but I am a human-being, a proud Torontonian, and in a position to contribute.

And as somebody that drives his/her car more than 99% of the population in Toronto, I’m in favour of taking down the Gardiner Expressway and rebuilding it, even if it makes my life hell for 3-4 years, because I think that’s the only long-term solution.

“It’s going to get worse, before it gets better.”

That’s the only logical, rational way of looking at the Gardiner Expressway.

As forhowtom implement the rebuild and/or renovation of the Gardiner, let’s just take it one step at a time.

Some city councillors are in favour of bringing in the private sector for help, or selling the Gardiner altogether.

Doug Ford showed his true colours yesterday, by agreeing with Adam Vaughan, and then opening his big-fat mouth and showing what a loaf he is:

“I’m glad that Councillor Vaughan is taking a page out of my playbook that I’ve been preaching for the last two years.  Maybe he got hit over the head over the weekend, maybe a coconut fell on his head and he realized, ‘hey, the only way I can get things going …’ ” (he was cut off by one of his aids at this point)

What a class-act.  A cynical Torontonian (aren’t we all?) would suggest that city council will fight and bicker about how to fix the Gardiner, as they fight and bicker about everything affecting Toronto, but let’s just cross our fingers…

I hope that this isn’t going to be yet another long, drawn-out process that takes years to even get started, and begins with political posturing.

Marcus Gee wrote last week:

“What Toronto needs is not fault-finding and blame games but hard information. Questioned on Wednesday about the expense of tearing down the Gardiner, the city’s deputy manager, John Livey, could only say that it would cost “a billion, two billion, three billion.” What we need to find out is how much the real cost would be and how that would compare to the cost of maintaining the expressway over the coming decades. The first step to that end should be to revive, and even expand, the aborted environmental assessment.”

A billion, two billion, three billion.  Great.

That’s like a client asking me what their house is worth, and replying, “Five-hundred thousand, a million, one-point-five….I dunno.”

Mr. Gee is right – the city has to begin with the proper research and due diligence, before city councillors start doing what they do best: FIGHTING.

I feel as though city councillors are ready to line up and vote on the matter, and yet none of them have any facts to go on!

I pray that this won’t be another bike-lane flip-flop, subway-LRT debate, island-tunnel pipe-dream, or feris-wheel promise.

I’m ready to endure five years of construction and traffic mayhem, if it means our city is better in the long run.

Are you?

17 Comments

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  1. Kyle says:

    The Gardiner either needs to be demolished or turned into a toll highway that supports itself. The city should not be spending billions of dollars on 7 km of infrastructure that allows 50K drivers (mostly non-Torontonians) to shave about 20 minutes on their daily commute. It’s just not good value the city. And even more crazy are the calls to rebuild it above ground or underground. Mother nature has a long track record of humbling human engineering, so adding complexity to the design is just saddling the next generation with even more unsustainable maintenance costs like those we are facing today. The cost to build and maintain would be astronomical and would be borne by all of the 2.6M population, but the benefits would still mainly accrue to just those 50K daily drivers. Does this make any sense at all?

    If we are going to spend billions why don’t we think about investing in the infrastructure of this century, instead of ploughing it into infrastructure from the middle of last century. Instead of building ways for ever more cars to commute from further away. Why don’t we spend billions on ways that people either don’t have to commute, can commute less frequently or commute less distances. We could provide tax subsidies to companies that encourage people to work more from home, work more flexible hours or days, or those that create satellite offices in the suburbs so people don’t all have to drive into a central head office. The answer is not about how we can move more people, it’s about how we can move less people.

  2. Perfect Fit says:

    How about a different plan of building over the existing train lines like this? http://www.toviaduct.com/Solution.htm Make it mixed use with transit on one level, public on another, park land on top and living quarters in the support buildings. Win, win, win and win.

  3. Floom says:

    So what are the experts saying, $500mm cost to repair + additional long-term maintenance costs vs…..$5 billion to rebuild? I’ve heard $10 billion and 10 years to bury it -not sure if that’s an exaggeration. I wonder, however, if a better argument can can be made to bury it if one considers the redevelopment of the surface land now exposed by removing the structure – new condos, commercial development, more property taxes and development charges…though judging by how close some of the condos are to the Gardiner, I’m not sure if develops care. But all the current condo owners on lower floors would see their property values appreciate! (they just might have to wait 10 years to avoid selling while the neighborhood is a construction zone)

  4. George says:

    There are no good options, and there is no sense of urgency to motivate a plan. Now if the Gardiner was closed for all traffic, then there would be a sense of urgency and a plan. Until it is closed, people will think that the status quo is a viable option.

  5. trev says:

    Got this link from another comment on the globe article:

    http://www.toviaduct.com/

    awesome or the gardiner redux 2013 styles?

    1. Oren says:

      Wow,
      That would be so amazing.

  6. Joe Q. says:

    The thing has to be rebuilt, for sure — I don’t think many would disagree with that. Expanding it is another story together, and history shows (here and elsewhere) that widening highways to relieve congestion is a short-term solution, at best. Burying it is another interesting option, but IMO not viable for the reasons outlined above.

    As for the TTC, it can be argued that all drivers benefit from good transit systems, simply because of the traffic volume they take off the road. Imagine taking all the Yonge subway line’s rush-hour riders and distributing them, one or two to a car, on nearby parallel north-south arterial roads. If that doesn’t make a driver give thanks for the TTC, I don’t know what will.

  7. cquee gee says:

    Good article, David. A lot can be accomplished if we drop the right and left labels and just focus on practical city-building. As a kid in Toronto, I benefited from a lot of forward thinking by previous generations. I’d like to pay that forward now.

  8. Matt says:

    I’m not a local, but Torontonians might want to look at a similar situation that occurred where I live (New York). We had a crumbling elevated expressway in the downtown core (the West Side Highway). Eventually a dump truck fell through the highway and the whole thing had to be shut down.

    After lots of grandiose plans, vitriolic protests and many years, the current West Side Highway was built, which is a limited access surface road surrounded by bike/running paths and parkland. Property values improved along it (though there were many other reasons for this), traffic flow did not deteriorate, and huge amounts of money were saved vs. other plans at the time.

    The savings compared to burying the Gardner could do a heck of a lot to improve mass transit, which is the only way Toronto’s current expansion will be sustainable.

  9. AsianSensation says:

    One word: Monorail

    J/K.
    Tear down and rebuild is the only option.

    Patching is not a long term solution. We’re merely postponing the inevitable.

    1. Darren says:

      Seriously, the first thing that came to mind with the idea of rebuilding was plop a subway track aling side it while you’re at it.

  10. Geoff says:

    What do we need to do? SOMETHING.

    Start a bulldozer, tear that into that sucker, do SOMETHING.

    Look at what miller + ford have collectively accomplished for ttc riders in the past decade… nothing.

    Just start a big dig like the US does, and do SOMETHING. That’s all I want, something. Not just words.

  11. dave says:

    Tear it down. Rebuild it ( preferably as a tunnel if possible). And I agree with you David, I’d happily pay a special surtax as a Toronto resident towards this and the TTC.

  12. Phil says:

    You are exactly right David. Most people only care about “How does that affect ME in the next 5 years” if the Gardiner is torn down, instead of thinking long term: how to make Toronto a better city to live in the next 10-50 years. Politicians here are whimps who never dare to make a bold decision in the right direction. Always a little bit of patch work here and there, just to keep things going. They care about the next election in 2 years more than anything else. Do we really need shortsighted policies like that?
    The only sane approach is for this fugly thing to come down. Now we know it is crumbling and there can’t be a better timing! Spending $505M trying to fixed it is a losing battle. It only reflects politicians’ inertia to change and their ultimate risk-aversion: not doing anything dramatic is always the safest thing to do. Plus, let’s not kid ourselves the cost is really $500M. When Toronto says a project costs $500M, it means anywhere between $1-1.5B, most of the time.

  13. Geoff says:

    They need to find a way to make concrete plans that can be ten years away. Too often plans are made and money is spent, only to have the new government change the plan. I think that some patching is in order, and then we need to start annexing some land to increase the size. Cutting through neighbourhoods and kicking people out is always hard, but needs to be done if we want to have a viable way to get people into the city. Too often, Toronto falls into feeling bad for little pockets of the city and wastes valuable time trying to accommodate everyone, which just isn’t possible.
    Burying the Gardiner, while a nice idea, probably isn’t feasible. The primary raised area, right in the downtown core, is too close to all the condo towers. I think a hybrid plan of increasing capacity further out where annexation is possible, and turning Lakeshore into more of a highway downtown, is probably the way to go. Make Lakeshore how you get out of the city, at least until the highway can open up into more lanes, and leave the downtown Gardiner as coming into the city.
    I am all for tolls as well, it’s time we brought them in and used them only for transportation improvements.

  14. JG says:

    I don’t think Toronto can get away with anything except a complete tear down and rebuild. and if we are going to go that route, then it needs to be tore down and built underground.
    A toll system should be introduced to cover the cost.

    Sure the cost will be high but it will have a positive long term benefit. as well, it will provide untold jobs for many years. Kind of like pulling an FDR move. Create jobs by building infrastructure.

    the only truth we have right now is, the Gardiner cannot be ‘maintained’ for any length of time. Structure is too poor. And that cost is too high.

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