Gardiner Expressway Decision
The Gardiner Expressway is old and crumbling, and we must decide right away whether to rebuild or take down the easternmost section. This is a defining decision for our City. Here’s why I will be voting to take it down.
This decision will effect several facets of life in the City: public finances, transportation, our economy, our environment, and the “quality of place” for a large part of our waterfront.
Keeping the Gardiner up is very expensive, twice as expensive as taking it down. In monetary terms, keeping it up will cost $0.5 billion extra. Already the City is tight for money and we cannot presently fund many important goals (improving transit, housing and daycare to name three). The extra cost will put meeting these goals even further out of reach.
Some argue that it is worth rebuilding the Gardiner to prevent our roads from becoming congested. If that is our goal, we should spend on projects which most efficiently reduce congestion and travel times. For example we could invest in an additional 60 streetcars for $366 Million. This would improve service for the entire streetcar network by 30% in rush hour. For less money than rebuilding the Gardiner, investing in streetcars would benefit nearly ten times more people. Look here for details: Streetcar briefing
Because keeping the Gardiner up is a cost-ineffective way to tackle congestion, it is (or ought to be) a relatively low priority as a transportation project.
Thinking about the economic impact involves a few factors. First, the big difference is that 12 acres of waterfront land becomes available for development if we take the Gardiner down. There are very developed proposals to put a mix of housing (including affordable housing) and employment uses on that land. In fact, we may have final approval of this proposal in a few weeks. The City owns some of that land. It would instantly become more valuable. Also, once developed, that land will generate significant tax revenue. Finally, there will be a substantial number of new jobs once the development is complete. Jobs which otherwise would likely have gone outside the City.
The environmental impacts are quite clear. Investing in highways is more polluting than not investing in highways. Further, we are deciding whether there will be a highway for the next 100 years. From what we know about climate change, our transportation system will have to become less car focussed in that time frame.
Finally, the biggest part of the decision is the impact on a very large section of the City’s Waterfront. One way to approach thinking about the impact is to imagine whether you would consider putting a new elevated expressway up in some other part of Toronto. Think of how big an impact such a highway would have.
Let’s use Roncesvalles to give a sense of the scale. The length of the elevated section that would come down is 1.7km. Roncesvalles is 1.8km from end to end. The removal option also eliminates two on/off ramps, one is 750 m and the other is 850 m. The area effected by an elevated highway of this size is similar to what we think of as Roncesvalles Village. Surely we can agree that reclaiming an area of this size (especially near the Lake) is a worthy public goal, and that losing an area of this size to an elevated highway would be a terrible decision.
Taken all together the case for removal is much, much better than the case for rebuilding and that is why I will be voting to remove the easternmost section of the Gardiner.
Click here to read the Staff Report that will be before the June 10th Toronto City Council Meeting.