Although reports warning of a possible “punch-through” surfaced in June and November of 2011, the city repeatedly told people that the Gardiner is structurally sound.
Those exact words, “The Gardiner is structurally sound,” repeatedly appear in media responses, briefing notes and communications lines from the city, obtained by Global News in an access to information request.
These words were part of a communications strategy to assure the public that falling concrete was only concrete cover, and that the overall structure was safe.
Even councillors like Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the city’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, were never made aware of the scope of the problem. “I was not aware of these reports that suggested there were punch-throughs and that these problems existed,” he told Global News.
“Emergency measures” holding up parts of the Gardiner Expressway
Temporary fixes and emergency measures have often been used to address major problems with the Gardiner, according to a Global News investigation.
Twice a year, city inspectors walk from one end of the elevated expressway to the other, looking closely at the condition of the concrete above. Since 2009, they found hundreds of instances of loose concrete and emailed locations to operations crews, who would address the problem by removing the loose concrete.
“We have to inspect the Gardiner on an ongoing basis because problems that aren’t apparent now become apparent in several months or a year’s time,” said Kelly.
“Twice a year is just not sufficient. Period. That is just not sufficient,” said Roger Tickner, a health and safety consultant. “When you know that you have a problem, when you know that you have issues, to me it should probably be a couple times a month that people are going out, and doing inspections and writing reports.”
“If you’re doing it twice a year, then that to me is called risk management. You’re flipping a coin and going, we hope everything is okay, until the next set of investigations or inspections.”
Temporary solutions last five or six years
Under the Gardiner Expressway, near the intersection of Cherry Street, wooden supports are helping to hold up the bridge.
“This is some temporary bracing that we’ve placed in an area where there are some concerns about the structural safety of the deck,” said John Kelly, Acting Director of Design and Construction of the City of Toronto’s Technical Services, pointing upward at the bridge. This area was identified in an engineering report last November as a location where there was a “high risk of punch-through” of the deck.
“And it just provides additional support in that area to ensure that there is no possibility of a failure on the deck surface.”
The bracing will last for roughly five or six years, he said. “We wouldn’t want to delay a decision on what’s going to happen on this portion of the Gardiner beyond five or six years.”
Right nearby, he pointed out a closed lane on the highway, closed in order to make room for lamp posts on the bridge. The parapet wall could no longer support their weight, he said, so they were taken off the wall and moved inward onto the bridge deck.
In another case, a large hole in the deck was scraped down to the reinforcing steel, new concrete was poured, and the section was paved over – all within 12 hours, raising questions about the long-term viability of that concrete patch. The photos appear in a report obtained by Global News through Freedom of Information legislation.
“12 hours is very quick,” said Philip Sarvinis, an engineer and concrete specialist with Read Jones Christofferson. “You need to pour the concrete quickly to get it in place, then what you need to do is add water to the concrete so it hydrates properly, so it cures properly. There are additives you can add to the concrete, low-moisture concretes, but we’ve never seen one turn around in 12 hours.”
“That’s an emergency measure. It’s meant to bring the Gardiner back to a driveable condition in a very short time. It’s not meant to be a permanent repair that stays in place for many years,” said Kelly of the patch.
“Emergency measures” like the patch and “temporary solutions”, as Kelly called the wooden bracing, are more common on the Gardiner than you might think.
In fact, he said, major repairs on some sections were actually deferred while the city and Waterfront Toronto were studying the future of the Gardiner and the possibility of reconfiguring Lake Shore Boulevard. Only emergency structural repairs and routine maintenance were done on the Cherry Street bridge deck during that period.
“We may have deferred some larger repairs that we may have wanted to undertake during that period but we are now recommending that that section be replaced.”
Typically the city spends between $6 and $10 million per year on capital repairs on the Gardiner, according to briefing notes in the documents. But a recent report from CBC suggests that the city has not spent all the money that was allocated to this project.
City staff are currently looking for budget approval for approximately $505 million between 2013 and 2022 for repairs and to replace sections of the deck, to address an estimated backlog of $626 million in repairs.
The priority for repairs, according to the City of Toronto’s John Kelly, is to replace the deck of the bridge east of Jarvis near the Don Valley and between Strachan and Rees.
“They’re basically reached the end of their life. With continued maintenance, we can maintain them until we are in a position to be able to replace them.”
Watch our second special report on the Gardiner Expressway.
And tomorrow, in part three of our exclusive series, we examine the future of the Gardiner.
Interactive credits: Kate Grzegorczyk, Leslie Young
Source: Freedom of Information request, City of Toronto
NOTE – Locations are approximate.