East Gardiner Expressway may not be 'usable' in 6 years

The eastern portion of Toronto's Gardiner Expressway may not be fit for use if repairs on the road surface aren't carried out in six years, according to a staff briefing note.

Top staff say roadway would need replacing even if repairs were done earlier

Report say Toronto expressway needs major repairs. 4:50

The eastern portion of Toronto's Gardiner Expressway may not be fit for use if repairs on the road surface aren't carried out in six years, according to a staff briefing note.

The note, published Wednesday, says that only emergency repairs have been conducted on the portion of the expressway east of Jarvis Street since the summer of 2008, when council under then-mayor David Miller deferred all work except what was deemed "essential."

"The current bridge deck cannot be maintained in perpetuity," says the briefing note. "Significant delays beyond six years will translate into the current deck not being usable." 

Additional work on that portion had been held up by council at the time because the city was looking into the possibility of dismantling the expressway east of Jarvis Street altogether.

In conjunction with the planning agency Waterfront Toronto, the city had initiated an environmental assessment that was going to look into the effects of dismantling the expressway east of Jarvis Street altogether.

But that environmental assessment was "placed on hold in 2011," the staff briefing note says, without offering further details. It is still unclear why the assessment was halted despite council's directive to start that process.

Staff now say it could take up to five years for that assessment to be completed. To keep the roadway operational for the next six years would require "$30 million to $35 million in timber bracing plus several millions of dollars in deck patching and parapet wall repair/replacement," said the staff report.

Deputy City Manager John Livey, however, downplayed the concerns around the Gardiner.

"I don't think it's a crisis whatsoever," he told reporters at a Wednesday afternoon news conference.

He said the city is aware of all the problems identified in the briefing note and has worked to fix the problems that have been identified.

"It's just the normal product having a structure that's getting [to be] 60 years old."

John Kelly, the acting director of design and construction for the city's transportation department, didn't think council's 2008 decision to carry out only emergency repairs contributed to the current state of the Gardiner.

"I don't believe that a deck replacement could have been averted if we had done other repairs earlier," he said.

Neither of the bureaucrats wanted to offer their opinion on whether the city should try to take down the eastern portion of the highway, saying that is council's decision.

Minnan-Wong says city has neglected highway

Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong said the city has not spent enough to maintain the Gardiner Expressway.

In an appearance on Metro Morning Wednesday, Minnan-Wong, who chairs the city’s public works committee, said the staff briefing notes that the highway is on the verge of becoming unsafe illustrate the importance of the proposed expenditure of $505 million over 10 years in the city's capital budget to maintain it. 

If approved, that move would cut the capital repair backlog on the Gardiner in 10 years to $121.1 million from the current $626.4 million, representing a reduction of 81 per cent.

"We need to make those repairs now," said Minnan-Wong. "To make the Gardiner safe, we need to approve those capital funds."

The proposal needs the approval of council in order to be implemented.

'They had an anti-car agenda'

CBC News reported last week that tens of millions of dollars budgeted to repair the Gardiner were never spent. A study done in October found that the highway’s deteriorating concrete poses a significant safety hazard.

"I want to ask staff why they weren't following council direction on where to allocate that money. We gave clear direction on how much money was supposed to be spent on repairs," said Coun. Gord Perks, who was vice-chair of the public works and infrastructure committee under Miller.

"It was voted for by a full city council. If they didn't spend that money, I want to understand why."

Coun. Doug Ford wants to know why that money wasn't spent.

"They ignored the infrastructure in the city. They had an anti-car agenda," he said.

He wouldn't say if he supported a complete fix of the Gardiner deck.

"We have to look into that. That's a big project. I think we have to get some experts in here [who] can give us the options."

The Gardiner, which was completed in 1965, is a crucial artery into downtown Toronto, carrying more than 200,000 vehicles on a typical weekday. But recently concrete chunks have fallen off the elevated portion of the highway, raising new questions about its safety for drivers and pedestrians.