Eastern Gardiner redevelopment plan chosen by city council also the priciest

City council overwhelmingly approved the priciest redevelopment plan for the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway late Thursday afternoon, less than a year after a contentious council vote killed any plans to tear the 1.7-km stretch down.

The option chosen by councillors has an estimated capital cost of $718 million

Toronto city council approved a redevelopment plan for the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway on Thursday afternoon. (Matt Llewellyn/CBC)

City council overwhelmingly approved the priciest redevelopment plan for the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway late Thursday afternoon, less than a year after a contentious council vote killed any plans to tear the 1.7-km stretch down.

Council approved the Hybrid Alternative Design 3 by a vote of 36-5.

In a high-profile – and close – vote last summer, council opted for a hybrid option for redeveloping the aging Gardiner east of Jarvis Street that maintains some of the elevated expressway.

On Thursday, council approved one of three designs that were put forward — the one that is also the most expensive. According to a city report, the estimated capital costs for the design are $718 million.

This City of Toronto rendering shows the approved version of the hybrid Gardiner, which will run farther north than the other options considered by council. (City of Toronto)

This design pushes the portion of the Gardiner that runs east of Jarvis Street farther north compared to the other two options, opening up more waterfront land for development.

All three options maintained the Gardiner-DVP link; removed the existing on and off ramps at Logan to be replaced by new access ramps through the Keating Channel development area; and rebuilt Lakeshore Boulevard east of the Don River as six-lane landscaped boulevard. 

But the first option most closely resembled the Gardiner's current configuration and had the lowest capital cost of $532 million. The second hybrid option would have moved the Gardiner in a northerly direction east of Cherry Street, at an estimated capital cost of $664 million.

The three proposed hybrid options for the Gardiner Expressway are seen in this artist's rendering. City council voted Thursday for hybrid 3. (City of Toronto)

Coun. Gord Perks voted against the hybrid plan, citing environmental concerns.

"Given what we know about climate change, it's impossible we'll be relying on the automobile to the same extent as we do now 100 years from now. So I just can't in good conscience vote for any of the options," Perks said Thursday after the vote.

"I think we should let sanity prevail and take that portion of the Gardiner down."

In a high-profile vote last June, city council narrowly approved a hybrid plan to reroute the Gardiner, which was endorsed by Mayor John Tory. In the process, council rejected a proposal to tear down the easternmost portion of the elevated expressway and replace it with a boulevard.

Tory said then that the hybrid plan "puts the people of the city first."

Mayor John Tory has been a proponent of the hybrid option for the eastern Gardiner. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

At the time, Coun. Pam McConnell, who represents the ward the highway cuts through, opposed the hybrid plan, as did the city's chief planner and medical officer of health.

On Thursday, McConnell said she and citizens in Ward 28 support tearing down the Gardiner. 

"However, that vote was taken three months ago. What was before us is whether we had the terrible option of taking that Gardiner right down to the lake or if we're able to move it closer to the railway embankment," she said.

"When we realized that we were not going to be able to take it down, we also had to make sure that we got the least impact that was possible."

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam also opposed the hybrid plan last year but voted in flavour of the third option on Thursday.

"My preference would've been to remove that eastern leg of the Gardiner altogether," she said.

"It was a very difficult decision. I sort of plugged my nose and supported the local councillor, I supported the mayor and obviously the majority of council felt this way."

Construction work on the project isn't set to start until 2018 at the earliest. An environmental assessment of the plan must be sent to the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change for review.

According to the environmental assessment conducted on all three hybrid designs, the option approved Thursday best supports "the city-building potential of the Keating Channel Precinct – a planned mixed-use waterfront community that will evolve as the gateway to a revitalized Port Lands and accessible Keating Channel."

The design allows for "unencumbered access to a planned waterfront promenade," and creates ideal conditions for a "high-quality park" and "pedestrian-friendly environments," as well as valuable locations for development, the report says.

Hybrid option three "would have the least physical and visual impact on the planned revitalization of the Don River," the report goes on, and would have the least impact on future sediment management in the river and would have the least amount of physical infrastructure, such as structural pillars, in the river.