Gardiner Expressway: What you need to know about the options

City staff have completed their environmental assessment of options for the eastern stretch of the aging Gardiner Expressway and Toronto now faces a decision that will impact generations well into the future.

Construction to begin in 2018 and will take an estimated 6 years

City staff have completed their environmental assessment of viable options for the eastern stretch of the aging Gardiner Expressway and Toronto now faces a decision that will impact generations well into the future.

The city will collect feedback from residents during two public meetings and a final report will be presented to council — with a recommendation from staff about they feel is the best option — on June 21.

If the preferred proposal gets Ministry of Environment approval, construction could begin in 2018. 

The question of what to do with the eastern portion of highway has stirred divisive debate in council since 2009. A 2013 staff report recommended tearing it down and building an eight-lane boulevard in its place, but then developers First Gulf came forward and proposed what is known as the "hybrid option."

Here's a look at what you need to know about the options on the table, and what they would mean for the city. All of the information below is based on documents provided by the city and details outlined during a technical briefing by staff on April 15. 

Important background

The length of the expressway in question is a 1.7 km stretch east of Jarvis Street to the Don Valley Parkway that handles about three per cent of peak hour vehicle trips to the downtown core. Similarly, it accommodates about 5,000 cars and 500 trucks every hour during the morning rush. 

The environmental assessment (which has cost about $7.5 million since 2009) looked at a slightly larger area: about 2.4 km of the expressway and the surrounding area, representing about 18 per cent of the total length of the Gardiner. Nearly 3,500 different stakeholders have been consulted. 

City staff used traffic projections for 2031 in their analysis and assumed that a number of other transit alternatives will be constructed in that time, particularly the waterfront LRT extension, the downtown relief line and improvements to GO Transit services. SmartTrack was not included in the model. 

Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong has come out in favour of the hybrid option, saying that tearing down the stretch of expressway completely and replacing it with a boulevard would eliminate the only way to quickly bypass the downtown. 

City staff have yet to publicly reveal their preferred option, saying it will depend on feedback during public consultations.

Cost estimates for each option are based on a 100-year lifecycle projection, which is about the timeframe any new infrastructure is expected to last before it needs upgrading or replacing.

Hybrid option

  • Maintains elevated stretch of the Gardiner Expressway west of the Don Valley Parkway.
  • The elevated deck would need to be replaced.
  • Existing on and off ramps east of the Don River that extend to Logan Avenue would be demolished.
  • East of the Don River, Lake Shore Boulevard East would be reconstructed into a six-lane, tree-lined boulevard.
  • Drivers would be able to get on or off the Gardiner on new ramps built between the Don River and Cherry Street.
  • Construction would take about six years total; up to a year and a half of road detours would be required.
  • Ninety per cent of commuter trip times would remain more or less unchanged but some trips from the east will  take an estimated three to five minutes longer than if the Gardiner remained unchanged.
  • Cost: About $414 million up front in capital costs and $505 million for operations and maintenance over the anticipated 100-year lifecycle.​

The hybrid option, according to city staff, has fewer traffic impacts during the construction phase but costs more than the tearing down the expressway altogether. It also allows for extensive development of approximately 29 acres of land owned by First Gulf and about 20 acres of publicly owned land near the old Unilever factory site. The development of that land is also required to partially fund Mayor John Tory's SmartTrack plan and would ultimately house a major SmartTrack hub. Staff says there is also significant opportunity for new employment and public space on the land. 

Removal option

  • Entirety of the elevated expressway east of Jarvis Street would be torn down and replaced with an eight-lane, ground-level boulevard.
  • Eight lanes reduced to six east of the Don Valley Parkway
  • Considerable new public spaces would be freed up.
  • New on and off ramps would connect the boulevard to the Don Valley Parkway, preventing the need for traffic to go through a stop light to move from one road to the other.
  • New on and off ramps would be built west of Jarvis Street to provide a connection the western portion of the Gardiner Expressway from Lake Shore Boulevard.
  • Construction would take an estimated six years; up to four years of detours would be required. 
  • Seventy-five per cent of commute trip times would be more or less unchanged, while some would see a three-to-five minute increase in travel time.
  • City staff estimates up to 85 per cent of the north and south sides of the boulevard could be developed for commercial and residential purposes.
  • Cost: $326-million up front in capital costs and $135-million for operations and maintenance costs over the anticipated 100-year lifecycle. 

Like the hybrid option, the removal option allows for the development of the former Unilever factory site. It does, however, according to city staff, open the door for more pedestrian-friendly projects. The removal option was also staff's preferred route before First Gulf came forward with their proposal. 

Maintaining the Gardiner

There is a third possible option: Toronto could simply maintain the Gardiner as it is. This option would generate the least of amount of traffic disturbance, but still cost more than tearing it down. It would require about $342 million immediately and another $522 million over the next 100 years. This option has little support among councillors, restricts the development of the Unilever site and does little to improve Toronto's waterfront. While it was included as a base case scenario in staff's analysis, there is little chance it will be seriously considered by the city.