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Toronto councillors push for plan to speed up Gardiner Expressway construction

Toronto city councillors want a plan to speed up construction on the Gardiner Expressway and have asked city staff to deliver it by July.

Councillors made the request at a meeting this week after a tense debate about the $300 million phase of the refurbishment project that’s creating headaches for commuters. That will include pushing for more work 24/7, including the possibility of some noisy overnight demolition work. Staff will also examine if some construction can be done off-site and shipped pre-fabricated to the expressway for installation.

But councillors amended the initial request from Coun. Brad Bradford to accelerate the three-year project, stressing that the needs of densely-populated areas around of the expressway had to be taken into account.

“The Gardiner corridor … is also home to tens of thousands of residents, residents who live right next to this active construction area,” said Deputy Mayor Ausma Malik, who represents the ward. “Construction must be managed with this reality factored into our considerations.”

Work started in March to refurbish the 60-year-old highway and portions of its elevated structure that run through the city’s downtown core. The project is part of a larger multibillion dollar effort to save the aging structure and will require lane closures over next three years to complete, resulting in snarled traffic for commuters.

Lessons learned from earlier Gardiner work

Preparatory work on this portion of the Gardiner began in November 2023. The first section of the rehabilitation project, from Jarvis to Cherry streets, was completed in 2021. City staff said that phase was disruptive to nearby residents and they incorporated lessons learned from the experience when they drew up the contract for this part of the project. That has included limiting overnight demolition work.

But councillors pushed city staff to determine the feasibility of conducting more work overnight. Currently, while some construction is being done round the clock, staff said demolition work that generates more than 70 decibels of noise is not permitted between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. Coun. Stephen Holyday asked staff to “push the envelope” of what could be done on parts of the expressway that border the Exhibition Grounds and business area west of Liberty Village, where few residents will be affected.

“Frankly, that section of highway is of national importance when it comes to the economy,” he said of the Gardiner. “We really owe it to the city at large to find ways to accelerate this as much as we can.” 

Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie, the chair of the city’s infrastructure committee, stressed that staff are already at work on elements of council’s request. But the project will be difficult, she said.

“It is going to be a very, very long three years,” she said. “But it will be a safe three years because city staff will make sure that the construction workers that are out there are safe, that the residents that are driving through the area are safe, and ultimately that the finished Gardiner Expressway is safer than it is right now.”

Ausma Malik
Deputy Mayor Ausma Malik represents the downtown ward where much of the work on the Gardiner Expressway is taking place. She says the needs of residents who live nearby must be taken into account if more overnight construction is planned. (CBC)

Coun. Bradford ran in last year’s mayoral byelection campaigning to cut congestion. He expressed frustration that it had taken a public outcry to prompt further action from city staff and city council.

“It shouldn’t have taken seven weeks of a horror show to have this conversation,” he said. “This should have been teed up from the beginning, focused on how we could get this done as quickly as possible because of the extent of the impacts.”

But Mayor Olivia Chow defended city staff, taking a thinly-veiled shot Bradford over his remakes.

“It is not fair to our staff to say that nothing has been done just because we want to score political points,” she said. “Let’s not do this.”

City staff are expected to report back to council in July on an updated congestion management plan for the city, which will now include a section on speeding up the Gardiner refurbishment. That will also include a report on co-ordinating capital projects across the city that are clogging many parallel routes to the expressway.

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