Coalition of community groups want answers on Gardiner East costs

The Gardiner Expressway is photographed on March 14, 2023.  A coalition of 40 community groups has written to Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie asking for a full accounting of the cost of rebuilding Gardiner East.  (Alex Lupul/CBC - photo credit)

The Gardiner Expressway is photographed on March 14, 2023. A coalition of 40 community groups has written to Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie asking for a full accounting of the cost of rebuilding Gardiner East. (Alex Lupul/CBC – photo credit)

Forty community groups have signed a letter to the city’s Deputy Mayor demanding a full accounting of the controversial Gardiner East project costs and any revenue that may remain on the table after the freeway’s rebuilding.

The coalition is called Gardiner East Transparency and includes groups like Community Bikeways, ClimateFast and Transport Action Ontario. It released the letter a week ahead of a key Infrastructure and Environment Committee meeting that will discuss the project on March 20.

Albert Koehl, a spokesman for the coalition, said it was time to have an open and clear discussion about the cost implications of the project.

“This is a great opportunity for the council to say we’d like to see the facts, we’d like to see the updated construction cost figures,” he said.

“And we want to see what we’re missing out on in lost revenue.”

In 2016, city councilors decided to spend just over $1 billion to preserve the east portion of the expressway and move it farther north while demolishing a ramp over Logan Avenue. The so-called “hybrid option” was chosen in lieu of a proposal to demolish a 1.1-mile (1.7-kilometer) section of the Gardiner east of Jarvis Street and replace it with an above-ground boulevard for less than half the cost.

But the project was and is controversial. According to employees, it accounts for about 14 percent of the city’s total 10-year capital plan.

Koehl said the coalition would like city councilors to instruct city staff at the committee meeting to study the project in depth.

“We want it to be done in great detail,” he said.

“What we’ve seen so far is a four-page briefing note.”

City officials say changing course may not save money

City officials provided this informational note last month in response to questions from Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie. In it, Barbara Gray, the city’s general manager of transportation, outlined the potential impact of a course change on the project.

“Any deviation from the currently approved … option would require new design work,” she said in the document.

“With this in mind, we are unable to say whether reverting to the remove option would save funds or whether funds would be available for reallocation that would not impact the delivery of the necessary repair work in good order.”

Michael Wilson/CBC

Michael Wilson/CBC

ClimateFast’s Lyn Adamson said Gardiner’s rebuild runs counter to the city’s climate change goals and needs to be reconsidered.

“The Gardiner East project reflects yesterday’s thinking while undermining our ‘Net Zero by 2040’ strategy. We need a plan that gets people out of their cars and into efficient, affordable transportation, walking and cycling,” she said in a statement.

Matlow is off the ramp looking for the Gardiner East project

count. Josh Matlow, District 12, Toronto-St. Paul’s, urged that the administrative inquiry be placed on the committee’s agenda for next week. He said he was skeptical that a course reversal wouldn’t save money and is pleased that community groups are asking questions.

“I know a lot of Torontonians want the same answers,” he said.

“We don’t just want to know it’s happening because the former mayor wanted it to be.”

Matlow said the city has a $1.5 billion budget shortfall this year and needs to reassess spending on Gardiner East.

“I want to make sure that what this city is doing when it comes to infrastructure projects, [is] is evidence-based, uses every tax dollar responsibly and that we don’t do things just because it’s good policy,” he said.

Chris Young/Canadian Press

Chris Young/Canadian Press

McKelvie said changing course now is unlikely to save money and could potentially cost more money. This will result in a $340 million throw-away cost for the already completed section, she said in a statement.

“We can’t have the same conversations about decisions that were made seven years ago,” she said.

“The city of Toronto has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on this project. The Gardiner Expressway is over 60 years old and in poor condition. It needs to be renewed.”

The Gardiner was built in segments between 1955 and 1966. When the council approved the rehabilitation plan, staff said it was an urgent matter as the roadway was nearing the end of its lifespan.

$500 million already spent or committed in contracts

City officials said about $500 million earmarked for the project has been spent or committed in contracts. The city said the city’s 10-year capital budget has an additional $770 million earmarked for work to begin later in 2026.

Alex Lupul/CBC

Alex Lupul/CBC

Approximately $60 million is earmarked for the project in 2023, representing 14 percent of the city’s Department of Transportation’s $435 million capital budget.

Work already completed on the project costs includes realignment of the freeway from Cherry Street to Don Valley Parkway and Lake Shore Boulevard, and new on and off ramps east of Cherry Street.

But city officials warned last month that the cost of the other work on Lake Shore Boulevard needed an update. This includes civil works, utility moves and electrical work.

“The estimate did not take into account the significant inflation seen in construction projects,” City Manager Paul Johnson warned in a report to the City Council.


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