So! Big news about the Gardiner Expressway today. It’s falling down, which we kind of knew, but it’s falling down faster than we were told. Because City Hall has been actively, intentionally lying to us, insisting all the road suffered was a flesh wound.
From the Star‘s Robyn Doolittle:
This latest revelation — that staff fears Toronto’s main commuter artery is on the verge of becoming unsafe — directly conflicts with what city hall officials have been preaching for months amidst the ongoing falling concrete controversy. Hundreds of documents released to the Star through freedom of information reveal a communications strategy designed to convince the public that the cracking problem was purely superficial. This was being said at the same time staff was mapping out a plan to replace entire portions of deteriorating road.
Among the lies: talking points written up by communications staff in coordination with the mayor’s office (“Anything else to enhance this message — that the mayor’s office wants us to focus on?“) insisted the road was “structurally sound” even though the problems with the road were that it was structurally crumbling and may be unusable within six years. The same apparently deliberate piece of misinformation was put into a staff report to the Works committee. This is serious. And unacceptable. If the Star‘s reporting is accurate, I hope people are fired over it.
Whatever the city’s public relations and communications strategy—we need to prevent panic, we need people to feel safe while we fix the problem, whatever—having the mayor and city staff stand up and tell the public the opposite of the truth is despicable. A lot of my regular readers will roll their eyes (We’re used to this mayor having a very distant relationship with the facts,I can hear them saying, or, politicians spin, that’s what they do…) but I retain my capacity to be shocked by coordinated efforts by civil servants and elected officials to undermine democracy. When you lie to the public, you directly inhibit them from forming an intelligent opinion on how to tell their elected officials to proceed. And when you put the opposite of what you believe in a staff report—the report that our elected officials are going to use to determine how to spend hundreds of millions of dollars and, importantly, preserve the safety of the citizens—you corrupt the entire decision-making process.
Now, about that decision-making process. The other big revelation is that the Gardiner is a tremendous crumbling money pit—in danger of experiencing “punch throughs,” which are just as bad as they sound—and will be for some time. From Global:
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.
According to that report, the budget to perform outstanding repairs right now is $626 million. And then we’re probably looking at a billion or more over the next 40 years or so to maintain it, as John McGrath spitballs. Which kind of puts the estimated cost to remove the road—about $1.2 billion for the whole elevated section—in perspective. I’ve never been particularly enthralled by the idea of taking down the Gardiner, partly because I don’t think it is the barrier in the city that many people believe it to be—even if you tear it down you’ve got busy Lakeshore Boulevard, but moreover, the rail lands directly north, and the corresponding block-long underpasses deterring pedestrians from strolling down from the financial core. If we’re looking at massive new infrastructure spending projects, tearing down the Gardiner wouldn’t be high on my list.
But if tearing it down is actually a cost savings that would free up money to build other infrastructure, that’s a different story. People shout, “But what would we replace it with?” I dunno. I’m not convinced we’d need to replace it with anything.
Here’s the thing: the Gardiner’s primary function is as a perk for suburban living. The major users of the Gardiner who could not take other routes through the city live in Mississauga and Burlington and Oakville. If the city of Toronto had not built and maintained the Gardiner, people who work in Toronto every day would never have moved to the far west of the GTA. This is infrastructure we’ve funded at great cost as a transportation subsidy to people who do not live here. Let them ride the GO Train—and have the provincial government figure out how to meet demand. Or let them move back into the city, closer to where they work. Or, if it is worthwhile to save it, have the municipal governments of Mississauga and Oakville and Burlington and wherever else come up with a plan to send Toronto the money to rebuild the Gardiner Expressway.
Or how about this: tear down the Gardiner, and use about $500 million of the maintenance costs we save to build the West Waterfront LRT line. The existing at-grade Gardiner ends right around the CNE grounds, which is essentially a massive parking lot for more than 11 months a year anyway, so put a giant LRT hub there where all the Gardiner drivers can transfer onto rapid transit into the city core.
Or whatever. People are suggesting tolling the Gardiner if we do keep it, which seems like a good idea if indeed it is worth keeping. Though it seems like if we wanted to avoid having Lakeshore Boulevard become a parking lot, we’d need to toll that and the other roads around it at the same time.
Whatever the case, now is the time to consider these options, before we decide to commit $500 million to $2 billion to the road over the next generation. Armed with the truth about the situation and the costs, we can make a real decision of what spending and construction projects will best serve the city of the future.
ONE FINAL NOTE: After I finished this, I noticed that Philip Preville at Toronto Life wrote a very fortuitously timed argument that was posted today. His concluding sentence is excellent (I don’t want to spoil it). But there’s also this, in the intro:
Well, here endeth the lesson: while we were rapt in our salon-style discussion of the Gardiner’s bold future, it fell into ruin. So did our civic dreams. From now on, decisions will be made on the basis of affordability, expediency and convenience, not great design or urban transformation.
Just so. We appear likely to have an election coming up next year. Perfect time to make a decision, and then go ahead and do what we’re going to do.