City engineers fear the Gardiner Expressway is becoming increasingly unsafe despite the public receiving assurances to the contrary, according to a local newspaper report.

Much of the concern is related to the elevated portion of the expressway. Engineers believe that nearly half of the Gardiner’s raised portion is becoming structurally unstable, The Toronto Star reports.

According to the Star report, published Wednesday, engineers have asked the city for half a billion dollars to rip out troubling sections of the Gardiner and rebuild them over the next 12 years. The project would involve reducing the number of lanes available to drivers, significantly impacting traffic on the busy commuter strip.

Engineers were particularly concerned about two specific parts of the road:

  • A two-kilometre stretch east of Jarvis Street, feared to be deteriorating so quickly that it will be dangerous to drive on in as little as six years.
  • A kilometre-long stretch between Strachan Avenue and Rees Street.

John Kelly, the city’s acting director of design and construction, said Wednesday that council must still approve the plan to replace the two sections of the highway. The plan calls for the deck east of Jarvis to be replaced over the next six years, followed by the portion between Strachan Ave. and Rees St.

In the meantime, he said city staff are identifying “areas which are of concern,” and ordering any loose concrete removed.

But he also warned that temporary repairs are not a long-term solution.

“What we’re saying is that the deck of the Gardiner is reaching near the end of its service life,” Kelly told reporters at a news conference called to respond to the report. “And we have to undertake some significant repairs on it if we are going to keep it up. So we can’t maintain it in perpetuity without doing a deck replacement.”

The deck is the portion of the roadway that rests on concrete or steel girders. Replacing the deck would involve replacing the driving surface, barriers, light fixtures and signs. That work would be completed in segments, Kelly said, and would leave two lanes of the Gardiner open at all times.

Kelly said he does not have concerns about the safety of the Gardiner “in the short term.”

However, he reiterated that the two-kilometre portion of the road east of Jarvis St. will be of concern in “at least six years.”  

The revelations contradict past claims that city staff have made regarding the safety of the road. Several of those assurances followed a number of incidents last summer in which errant chunks of concrete fell on the roadway below, some hitting vehicles.

In an October 2012 interview with CTV Toronto, Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong indicated that the public should not be concerned about driving on or walking near the Gardiner.

“City staff say it is safe, engineers say it is safe, our technical services say it is safe,” said Minnan-Wong, chair of Toronto’s Public Works Committee. “If there are any areas identified as being an immediate danger to the public, we'll be there immediately.”

Following the release of Wednesday’s report, Minnan-Wong was asked again about the safety of the roadway. He told CP24 that he was concerned about the findings, but didn’t think the public should be entirely surprised.

Minnan-Wong added that the city has prioritized emergency repairs on the Gardiner, but not preventative maintenance.

Additional documents, obtained by the Toronto Star via freedom-of-information requests, indicated that the City of Toronto had a communications strategy aimed at convincing the public that cracking on the Gardiner was superficial. At the same time, engineers were concerned about the state of the road, which connects downtown Toronto with suburban communities outside the city core.

Last fall, private engineering firm IBI Group released an independent report recommending that safety netting could be used on the Gardiner to protect pedestrians and motorists from falling concrete.

The report also advised the city to ban pedestrians from some parts of the roadway altogether.

In one of several incidents that has raised concern about the Gardiner’s structural integrity, pieces of concrete plummeted from the Gardiner in June 2012, hitting the windshield of a Mercedez-Benz that was sitting in traffic near Lakeshore Boulevard and Yonge Street.

Just a month earlier, a chunk of concrete hit a pedestrian walkway west of that location, at Lakeshore Boulevard and Lower Simcoe Street.

In the past, Minnan-Wong has said that he’d like to see annual maintenance spending on the Gardiner Expressway increase to about $35 million from the current $15 million.