Very soon, the Toronto City Council and Waterfront Toronto will be making a critical decision regarding the future of the Gardiner Expressway. One of Toronto’s key transport thoroughfares, the longstanding infrastructure has been showing the cracks of age for sometime now. Up for consideration are four proposals: maintain, remove, improve, replace.
The quick fix is to continue maintenance on the current structure; patch it up and revisit the issue a few years down the track. Yes, this option will be the least disruptive to commuters who use the expressway now, but where does it leave Toronto? Surely in a position where 20 years from now we are ruing the hundreds of millions spent on maintenance that would likely have been enough to pay for a better alternative. This said, the direct counter proposal to this, which would be to tear it down and bring the traffic to ground level presents equally confronting challenges. The obvious issue here is; would downtown arterial streets cope with the traffic? In short, definitely not. As a result, widening of roads that run parallel to the expressway such as Lake Shore Boulevard would become a necessity. Add to the scenario signalled intersections for streets running perpendicular to the expressway and you’ll start to remember why the overpass was constructed in the first place. Also consider that Toronto now has a hypothetical situation where its southern precincts are not only segregated by a major train route but also dozens of lanes of high-speed expressway traffic. It’s no secret that a city’s functionality is largely influenced by its connectivity. This option will allow areas on either side of the freeway to complement and interact with each other about as effectively as a wall would.
So far not so good…so what’s next? Another proposal suggests improving the current expressway not just structurally but also investing in its integration with the urban fabric. In recent years, development has finally stepped over the Gardiner and a “south core” is now emerging in Toronto, mostly populated by condominium housing and other mixed use sites; meaning that more than ever, there is very good reason to encourage connectivity within this area of Toronto. This proposal aims to fill the holes in the urban fabric created by intensive transport infrastructure and implement strategies that encourage a flow of pedestrian traffic underneath the expressway – essentially connecting north and south. For proof of how easily the weeds, rubbish and concrete dust amongst the vast concrete pillars can be transformed, look no further than the already built Underpass Park. In use for over two years now, it serves as a taste of what could be achieved with the forgotten land underneath the expressway.
Replacing the Gardiner Expressway with a tunnel is another option currently in consideration. Take the traffic completely out of sight and create vast space in a key downtown location; a possibility that is hard to ignore. Increased land tax revenue generated by the inevitable rise in land value surrounding the former Gardiner Expressway might even chip away at the price tag enough to get traction on this proposal. However from an engineers perspective, constructing a tunnel underneath a landfill site and so close to the water table not only adds significant cost but becomes a logistical nightmare. More feasible in this scenario is the complete rebuilding of the expressway above ground.
These issues really only scratch the surface when it comes to considering the aforementioned proposals. For those interested in finding out more and getting involved, the third public meeting will be held on the 6th of February at Bram & Bluma Appel Salon. Visit www.gardinereast.ca to find out more and register to attend.