‘Clock is ticking’ on city repairs to aging Gardiner Expressway

This wooden structure under the Gardiner near Cherry Street is a temporary fix to help maintain the structural integrity of the bridge deck. According to the city, it will last about 5 or 6 years. Leslie Young, Global News

Part three of a three-part series. Read Part One. Read Part Two.

The city has a plan to address the worst problems with the Gardiner Expressway, but it needs to start work soon.

“What we heard yesterday is we’ve got six years, and then you know, the clock is ticking and then the alarm bell goes off and we’re in serious trouble,” said Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the city’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee. “So we really need to move forward with this in an expedited fashion.”

Minnan-Wong is referring to two areas on the elevated portion of the Gardiner: east of Jarvis Street and between Strachan and Rees. In both these areas, the structure is “near the end of its service life,” said John Kelly, Acting Director of Design and Construction for the City of Toronto.

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Reports highlighting a possible risk of a “punch-through”, or a vehicle putting a hole in the bridge deck in those locations, were obtained by Global News through Freedom of Information legislation. The investigation has spurred discussions at city hall about what to do with the ailing highway.

See our interactive map of the Gardiner’s problems

Currently, wooden bracing is helping to support the bridge deck in these areas, but according to Kelly, this temporary measure will only last about six years. “There are not any minor repairs or temporary repairs that we can do to it. It needs to be completely replaced.”

The city currently has a 10-year, $505 million proposal to start replacing the bridge deck of the Gardiner before budget committee. If the plan and budget are approved, work will start on replacing the deck between the Don Roadway and Cherry Street in 2013. Work will then continue from east to west, with the deck replaced east of Jarvis within six years, and along the full length within 12 years.

Some lanes will be closed as the work is completed, but Kelly expects that the highway will remain open, even if it means that crews have to work more slowly and that the job will perhaps cost more than if they closed down the road.

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At the same time, the city is hiring an outside engineering firm to undertake a study of the full length of the Gardiner Expressway and come up with a “Strategic Rehabilitation Plan” which will prioritize areas for repair.

The consulting firm will be retained by January, and the report completed by December 2013, said Kelly.

Depending on what the plan recommends, Kelly said that they might have to adjust the current repair strategy in time for the 2014 budget deliberations to reflect the new priorities.

However, both these plans are only looking at one option for the Gardiner: repairing it. Many other plans are being suggested, from tearing it down or tearing down just part of it, burying it, among other suggestions.

An environmental assessment was underway at one point to look at options for the portion of the highway east of Jarvis. The assessment was examining whether to maintain the existing structure, change its configuration, replace it with a new expressway or remove the elevated expressway.

While the EA was being conducted, structural repairs to the expressway were put on hold and only emergency maintenance was performed on that section.

However, the EA was cancelled roughly two and a half years ago. “That was not a planning decision, that was a political decision,” said Toronto’s Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat on Global Toronto’s “The Morning Show”.

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Were councillors to vote to restart the assessment now, repair work would again be put on hold while it was completed, said Kelly. But the work can’t be postponed forever.

“We’ve advised that if the city wants to restart that study, we can maintain the deck for a certain period of time, but we can’t maintain it in perpetuity. So we need a decision one way or the other in about six years’ time,” he said.

Minnan-Wong agrees. “I think that we have to move forward with the repairs.”

Council’s budget committee is next set to meet on Monday, December 17, to discuss the 2013 capital and operating budgets for the city.

And join Global News reporters Leslie Young and Jackson Proskow for a live chat on the Gardiner Expressway from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time, on Friday, December 14.

Read the whole series here.


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