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Ontario transportation minister pitches 24-hour work to speed up Gardiner construction

Click to play video: 'Lane closures begin soon for Gardiner Expressway rehabilitation work'
Lane closures begin soon for Gardiner Expressway rehabilitation work
RELATED: City officials say construction work for repairing the aging Gardiner Expressway will begin next week, starting with the eastbound portion of the roadway. Matthew Bingley reports. – Mar 19, 2024

As claustrophobic congestion on Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway worsens with years-long lane closures to accommodate road repairs, Ontario’s minister of transportation is suggesting around-the-clock construction could dramatically shorten the time frame.

Parts of the Gardiner, between Dufferin Street and Strachan Avenue, have been reduced by one lane in each direction for “critical rehabilitation work” for three years.

On Thursday, Transportation Minister Prabmeet Sarkaria told Global News he was willing to “use any tool” to speed up construction, including allowing the work to take place through the night.

“We’ll work with the city on any slew of measures, (including) looking at 24-hour construction on the Gardiner and see how we can help,” he said.

“We’re up for any solution to this. We want to build highways and transit across this province (and we know) it’s disruptive but we’ll do whatever we can to make sure we speed that up.”

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Click to play video: 'Lane closures to begin March 25 for Gardiner Expressway rehabilitation work'
Lane closures to begin March 25 for Gardiner Expressway rehabilitation work

Both the Ford government and the City of Toronto are currently responsible for the road as its ownership transfers from city hall to Queen’s Park through a new deal signed at the end of 2023.

While the final details of the upload — which will also transfer the Don Valley Parkway to the province — are finished, the Ford government is paying for the rehabilitation work, while the City of Toronto is managing it.

Sarkaria conceded that the rehabilitation was a “city project” but implored Toronto to consider expanding its construction work.

Jennifer Graham Harkness, Toronto’s executive director of engineering and construction services, told Global News the city’s current schedule meant work on the road is taking place between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m., Monday to Saturday.

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Ontario cities looking for new deals after Toronto agreement

Harkness said the contractor working on the route was “very much aware” they could do “quiet work” during the night and that there was an “opportunity” for work to take place on Sundays.

City officials have already said some construction, including girder removal and replacement, shifting of traffic barriers between work stages and delivery of materials, could be done while nearby residents sleep.

“It really was to strike a balance between getting the construction done quickly and also being mindful of those who live adjacent to the Gardiner and what that impact might be if it was 24 hours (a day), seven days a week,” Harkness said.

The project is part of a broader rehabilitation for the aging expressway, approved almost a decade ago to take place in several sections. The first section — between Jarvis and Cherry streets in the east end — was completed in 2021.

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Click to play video: 'Ontario to take over responsibility for DVP, Gardiner in new deal with City of Toronto: Ford'
Ontario to take over responsibility for DVP, Gardiner in new deal with City of Toronto: Ford

The current phase of work involves replacing 700 metres of elevated bridge surface, rehabilitating structures underneath that support the elevated portion of the expressway, and adding a new traffic management system and streetlights.

It has led to significant delays for drivers heading in and out of Toronto on the Gardiner Expressway from west of the city’s Liberty Village neighbourhood, with pressure growing to address the delays faster than the city’s three-year timeline.

On Thursday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he wanted to work with the city to solve traffic on the route.

“We’ll be coming up with plans, working in collaboration with the City of Toronto,” he said at an unrelated event in Oakville, Ont. “But the traffic’s pretty heavy everywhere in the province.”

Sarkaria echoed the premier’s comments.

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“We’ll work with the city on this,” he said. “From our end, we’re willing to do whatever we can to ensure we speed this up and use any tool in our toolbox to do so.”

Click to play video: 'Chow says stretch of Gardiner Expressway is ‘coming down anyway,’ could save money for ‘fixing TTC’'
Chow says stretch of Gardiner Expressway is ‘coming down anyway,’ could save money for ‘fixing TTC’

Harkness suggested she wasn’t sure how much additional work could take place at night.

“A lot of the work we do requires time to cure and time to get set up,” she said. “We have 16 hours a day that (are) currently available for the contractor to work, more if quiet work… 24-7 may not achieve the goals of accelerating work.”

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow’s office said some work is already taking place overnight along the route. Asked repeatedly by Global News if the mayor was in favour of full, 24-hour construction, her spokesperson could not say.

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However, Chow told reporters Friday she is supportive of 24/7 work as long as it doesn’t disturb residents living near the Gardiner.

“Can we do it faster? Can we hire more folks? I’m willing to examine that,” she said.

“I thank the minister for wanting us to do it faster and sooner, and we thank the provincial government because it’s their new deal – they are helping us finance some of the construction so whenever we can partner together we’ll absolutely do so.”

— with files from Global News’ Aaron D’Andrea

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