Could city council speed up Gardiner Expressway construction?

A motion coming to city council this week asks Toronto staff to investigate further accelerating construction on the Gardiner Expressway. (Patrick Morrell/CBC - image credit)
A motion coming to city council this week asks Toronto staff to investigate further accelerating construction on the Gardiner Expressway. (Patrick Morrell/CBC - image credit)

A bid to speed up construction on Toronto's Gardiner Expressway will come before city council this week as Mayor Olivia Chow promises measures to address congestion on the key artery are on the way.

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 $300-million construction project is part of a larger multi-billion dollar effort to save the aging structure and will require lane closures over next three years to complete, resulting in snarled traffic for commuters.

Chow said Friday that more details are coming this week on measures to ease the pain for drivers, and some work is taking place around the clock.

"We are asking experts to give us opinions on how we can do it faster and more efficiently," she said.

The project will include replacing the elevated structure, repairing the structures underneath the expressway and adding a new traffic system between Dufferin Street and Strachan Avenue.

Preparatory work on this portion of the Gardiner began in November 2023, the city said. The first section of the rehabilitation project, from Jarvis to Cherry streets, was completed in 2021. The city budgeted roughly $2.2 billion for the total project, which it first approved nearly a decade ago.

Motion proposes construction 24/7 including Sundays

City council will consider a motion from Coun. Brad Bradford this week to ask staff to investigate further accelerating the work. He'd like more construction to take place 24/7, including on Sundays. He'd also like some of the work to be done off-site and shipped pre-fabricated to the expressway for installation.

Bradford said the current pace of the project isn't good enough. Compounding the problem is that many of the alternative routes to the Gardiner are also choked by construction, he added.

"This is catastrophic, it's a nightmare," Bradford said. "And I think we need to make sure that the city works for everybody. And if there's a way that we can consolidate the construction timeline, get it done faster, that has to be a priority."

But the head of Toronto's Infrastructure Committee, Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie, said Friday that work is already underway to determine the feasibility of speeding up the Gardiner work. A staff report is expected back in July along with an update to the city's congestion management plan, she said.

"We do know that Toronto is seeing unprecedented construction across the entire city," she said. "We know that we need to mitigate those impacts on Toronto residents so they can get to where they need to go every day."

Province wants to help speed up construction

In November, the province and city struck a deal which will see Ontario upload both the Gardiner and Don Valley Parkway. The province will eventually take responsibility for all upkeep and maintenance of both highways, freeing up billions in the city's capital budget over the next decade.

Earlier this week, Ontario's transportation minister weighed in on the gridlock, telling reporters that he drives the highway in from Brampton every day and feels the impact first-hand. Prabmeet Sarkaria said the province wants to help cut the length of construction on the expressway.

"We are also there to support in any way to ensure that that project is completed as fast as possible," he said. "We are committed to doing anything, everything to help support the increased timelines on getting that completed."

Chow said she has had conversations with the minister and that the province will be there to help speed up the work. But first the plan needs to be approved by experts, she added.

"You will see more details as we come forward," she said. "What we want to do is to make sure that all the methodology that we employed are safe and recommended by experts."