Community Cars driving the highway at night.

Published on May 15th, 2015 | by Elliott Silverstein

Do We Need to Tear Down the Gardiner Expressway?

Off and on for many years, City of Toronto’s Council has debated the future of the Gardiner Expressway.   Toronto’s City Council is set to debate the issue once again at its meeting in June.

A recent report prepared by Waterfront Toronto and the City touted the benefits of tearing down the eastern end of the Gardiner from Jarvis to the Don Valley Parkway, and replacing it with an eight lane boulevard style road, either at 60 or 70 km/hr speeds and with stop lights and pedestrian cross-over locations.  Within the report, they estimated commuting delays of only two to five minutes should the Gardiner be removed. If approved removal would commence in 2018 and take six years to complete and be replaced with the boulevard style road.

Another option that was presented, but not recommended by Waterfront Toronto, would maintain the elevated portion of the Gardiner as a continuous link between the DVP and the QEW.  This elevated portion would be reconfigured to accommodate future development of various sites around the Gardiner, which is also considered to bring future economic development via development charges collected from this land development. This option is referred to as the “hybrid” option.  If this option was chosen the work would also likely begin in 2018 and take six years to complete. The Hybrid is projected to reroute downtown traffic for approximately one and a half years compared to the remove option which is projected at two or three years.

Beneath the surface is a much greater, and often ignored, issue that could impact many road users well beyond the local Gardiner area – the impact of additional congestion and the impact of congestion on quality of life; the economic impact of delay of goods and services; and safety concerns surrounding vehicles coming on and off connecting highways, diverting traffic onto already congested city roads, intersecting modes of transportation such as bicycles, transit and pedestrians.

In response to the latest debate and concerns by a number of stakeholders, a report prepared by the University of Toronto’s Centre for Intelligent Transportation Systems that was commissioned by the Gardiner Coalition (comprised of several stakeholders including CAA South Central Ontario, the Ontario Trucking Association, various employers and the Toronto Financial District BIA), showed that morning commute times would increase by at least 10 minutes and the removal of the eastern Gardiner would have a significant impact on the southbound traffic flow on the Don Valley Parkway.  The travel time delay of at least 10 minutes is a ‘best-case scenario’ and would be much worse if there was a collision, road closure or inclement weather.

Studies have shown that the average commute times in the Greater Toronto Area to be in excess of one hour.  But time isn’t the only factor.  The University of Toronto study indicates there would be a ripple effect which would force commuters onto already congested routes such as the Don Valley Parkway and Richmond Street. Researchers estimated the dollar amount due to delays would total approximately $37 million per year on the morning commute alone, and that is on top of the current $6-11 billion annual cost of GTA congestion as calculated by the C.D. Howe Institute.

As Toronto Council explores this issue, opponents of an elevated expressway raise the proposed cost of $900 million (over 100 years) to adopt the “hybrid model” as a major concern.   This amount is estimated as double the cost to tear it down.  However, when you factor in the existing cost of congestion at $6-11 billion combined with an additional $37 million in lost productivity if the Gardiner was removed, one has to question if the City and, more importantly, residents and commuters are actually saving anything in the end.  Over a 15 year period, that $37 million annual figure amounts to over a half billion dollars, and that doesn’t even factor the significant projected population growth within the City.  Across the downtown core, high rise commercial and residential buildings are being built at a record pace, and will also impact the number of commuters using all existing modes of transportation, including existing and projected transit.

The City of Toronto report on the future of the Gardiner is based on the assumption that several new transit lines including LRT services and the Downtown Relief Line would be built by 2031, however as of yet, these projects are unapproved and unfunded by any level of government. These plans are needed in addition to existing infrastructure.

As we look at the cost of congestion both for the GTA and its residents, and the need for balance in our lives, we should be basing our decisions on examining the current challenges, and anticipating the growing needs without assuming that additional transit infrastructure is a certainty or the only solution.

Removing a critical piece of road infrastructure that connects the GTA road network is not the solution to gridlock challenges.  In fact, it has the potential to create additional pressure on our roads, economy, communities and quality of life.  And given how long our commutes already are, can we really afford an extra 20-30 minutes in our cars each day as congestion increases and spreads?

The fate of the Gardiner will be decided by Toronto City Council on June 10th.  Do you believe the Gardiner should remain as an elevated expressway at 90 km/h, or should it be removed and replaced with an eight lane boulevard at 60 km/h?  How will this impact you? Have your say in the comments section below.

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