December 11, 2012 11:15 am
Updated: June 25, 2013 2:25 pm

Documents warn of “punch-through”, show frequent emergency repairs on Gardiner Expressway

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Part one of a three-part exclusive series. Read part two. Read part three.

Click the image below to explore our interactive map showing identified problems with the Gardiner. 

Picture of Gardiner graphic

A short walk under many parts of Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway will reveal cracks, patches and missing bits of concrete that anyone can see.

But according to city documents released to Global News, the problems go deeper than that.

Through Freedom of Information legislation, Global News obtained over 2000 pages of inspection reports, emails and briefing notes which detailed hundreds of issues with the elevated portion of the Gardiner Expressway between 2009 and the fall of 2012.

“I think the Gardiner is in very difficult times. It’s in a state of ill-repair from the reports I have seen,” said health and safety consultant Roger Tickner after reading these reports.

Inspection reports and emails frequently highlight the need for “emergency removal” of loose concrete, generally describe poor conditions, and most alarmingly, mention the possibility of a “punch-through” in two separate locations of the bridge deck.

Punching through

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A punch-through is exactly what it sounds like – a heavy vehicle could crack a hole right through the bridge portion of the Expressway. Although it’s very unlikely that an entire car would fall through to Lake Shore Boulevard, other kinds of significant damage are possible, said Philip Sarvinis, a concrete restoration engineer with Read Jones Christofferson.

“It’s enough to have a truck tire damage or fall through the deck, push a large piece of concrete down onto the area below,” said Sarvinis.

Two separate reports warn this could happen if repairs are not performed: one near the intersection with Fort York Boulevard, and another on the other end of the elevated Expressway, just west of Cherry Street. In both cases the city was forced to patch the road deck.

This is because not only was the concrete severely delaminated or separated from the overall structure near Fort York Boulevard, according to a report, but the underlying reinforcing steel was severely corroded – with over 50 per cent section loss in numerous locations.

A punch-through could be potentially disastrous, said Tickner. “If you have a very heavy vehicle, carrying maybe a load of flammables or whatever, and it punches through the deck and all of a sudden you have a lot of people piling into something that is flammable, you could have a catastrophic event.”

John Kelly, Acting Director of Design and Construction, Linear Infrastructure for the City of Toronto, said that the Gardiner presents no danger to the public. “The city is maintaining public safety by doing repairs as required on the Gardiner. Where we’re not able to do significant repairs at any given time, then we undertake emergency measures to ensure there is no risk to public safety.”

One of these emergency measures is some wooden bracing placed under the deck near Cherry Street. “It just provides additional support in that area to ensure that there is no possibility of a failure on the deck surface,” said Kelly. He expects the bracing to last roughly five years.

Crumbling concrete

Punch-throughs aren’t the only possible problems, either. Loose and falling concrete remains a constant issue.

There were six confirmed instances of falling concrete in 2012. In one of those cases, a driver claimed his car was dented by a piece of the Gardiner.

But according to the documents, city inspectors are spotting hundreds of pieces of loose concrete along the roadway.

Over a three-day period in May, 2012, city inspectors identified at least 72 separate problems that required attention. 36 of these required immediate action, as they involved very loose concrete above a travelled pedestrian area or roadway or other things that presented serious danger to the public.

In one of these cases, loose concrete was spotted over a children’s playground. Some was also found above GO Transit’s Exhibition Station.

One email from June, 2012, warns that concrete is going to fall any minute from the Gardiner onto Simcoe Street.

“We have structural engineers on staff who are undertaking visual inspections of the Gardiner. When they identify an area where they think there may be a possibility of loose concrete, they go up with a crane and inspect it more closely and remove any loose pieces,” said Kelly.

“We do those inspections twice per year from one end of the Gardiner to the other.”

In an interview with Global News, Kelly pointed out an area of the Gardiner near Cherry Street where the concrete parapet wall had crumbled so much that it could no longer support the weight of lamp posts. So, the curb lane has been closed down and the streetlights temporarily moved inward onto the bridge deck where they are better-supported.

Budget deliberations

Much of the information in these reports comes as a surprise to Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the city’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee.

“I was not aware of these reports that suggested there were punch-throughs and that these problems existed,” he said.

“There is a sense of discomfort that the words of our engineering staff just don’t square with what your gut says about the Gardiner Expressway.”

The city’s infrastructure department is currently trying to get funding approval for its 12-year rehabilitation strategy for the Gardiner. It estimates that it will need $505 million between 2013 and 2022 for repairs and to replace sections of the deck.

But there is an estimated backlog of $626 million in repairs right now. So even if new funding is granted, there will still be a significant gap.

Repairs are urgently needed, said safety consultant Roger Tickner, before there is an incident that results in injury or loss of life.

“We’re starting to see more incidents. We’ve been lucky until now, but luck has a way of running out.”

Interactive credits: Kate Grzegorczyk, Leslie Young
Source: Freedom of Information request, City of Toronto
NOTE – Locations are approximate.
Watch Part 1 of our special report on the Gardiner Expressway.

Tomorrow: In Part 2 of our Gardiner series, Global News will examine what action the city has taken to address the Expressway’s many issues.

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