Can I make what should be a pretty innocuous, perhaps even vapid statement, but may come across as something almost audacious, given the political times we live in?
No single one is to blame for the crumbling pile that is the Gardiner Expressway.
There. I said it. I stand by it even two seconds after writing it.
The current state of disrepair we find our southern most arterial thoroughfare in is the result of a confluence of neglect, disinterest and pusillanimity, traversing decades now. Senior levels of government never really answering why a municipality should be responsible for the maintenance of a thoroughfare that serves a significantly wider regional interest. A municipality trying to put off the hard decision and hard cash of keeping the thing properly functional as the battle rages over its ultimate fate. Restore? Demolish? Bury?
This most recent dust up pitting the current administration in power at City Hall – let’s call them Team Ford – against the previous one – Miller’s Minions – is a wholly manufactured in Toronto melodrama. Replete with finger pointing, name calling, innuendo insinuating, answer evading that more resembles… well, a political pissing match which is what it is. There are no good guys in this tale. Only those dedicated to not having an open and honest discussion on a spectacularly important matter affecting this city for the next generation or so.
The saga (at least this chapter of it) can be traced back to July 2008. Recommendation 1 of an Executive Committee item that went to city council that read as follows:
Council authorize the City to act as co-proponent with Waterfront Toronto to undertake an individual environmental assessment (EA) of Waterfront Toronto’s (WT) proposal that the elevated Gardiner Expressway from approximately Jarvis Street to east of the Don Valley Parkway including the remaining Lake Shore Boulevard East ramp be removed and an at-grade waterfront boulevard be created.
Ground zero in this tear down-keep up debate. The call for an environmental assessment Team Ford now cites as proof of the Miller’s Minions’ anti-car agenda. Never mind the fact that by the time people got around to assessing, the scope got somewhat broader. Quoting from Waterfront Toronto’s Environmental Assessment Terms of Reference (approved by city council in 2009): In contrast to some EA studies, which limit the number of alternatives to be considered, the Gardiner EA will bring the following broad but defined range of options forward for study… Including three options to keep the most eastern part of the expressway up and going, As Is, Enhanced and Replaced.
A car killer? Hard to come to such a conclusion reading, you know, the words. So people really need to stop saying that if they expect to be considered, you know, a serious part of this conversation.
Further down the 2008 Executive Committee item list, another couple highly relevant recommendations that are now playing out before our very eyes. Recommendation # 3 (as pointed out by Matt Elliott):
Council defer the total rehabilitation of the Gardiner Expressway east from Jarvis Street, except for essential works required to provide safe operating conditions, and direct the General Manager, Transportation Services to adjust the 2009 Capital Program submission and 2010 to 2013 Capital Works Plan accordingly.
And Recommendation #4 (as pointed out to me by Hamutal Dotan):
Council direct the Executive Director, Technical Services to conduct annual, detailed condition surveys of the Gardiner Expressway east from Jarvis Street to identify the minimum maintenance required to maintain safe operating conditions, and to make appropriate adjustments to the annual maintenance spending, until such time as City Council makes its decision on the future of this section of the Expressway.
My terms of reference on these two paragraphs.
We’re only talking about, and have always only been talking about, the most easterly section of the Gardiner, the least travelled on portion, from Jarvis to the Don Roadway.
Any unspent money for maintenance on it had more to do with a sound fiscal decision – why pour money into something that might just be pulled down in a couple years, pending the EA? – than deliberate neglect. I mean, ask yourself. What would any member of Team Ford be saying now if boatloads of cash had been spent restoring the eastern Gardiner only to have council decide to now tear it down? Waste! Gravy!
The decision of what to spend and what not to spend seems to have been given over to the discretion of city staff, the Executive Director of Technical Services specifically “…until such time as City Council makes its decision on the future of this section of the Expressway.” We can hurl accusations of the quiet nefariousness of Miller’s Minions to strangle the concrete life from the Gardiner but until there’s a smoking gun providing some evidence of that, it’s all just hearsay and narrative spinning.
That we now have to spend oodles of cash to either totally redo or tear down some or all of the Gardiner should hardly be surprising. It was inevitable. The decision of what to do and how to do it is the key point here.
And it’s where it got awfully fucking murky.
At some point of time over the course of the past two years the Environmental Assessment got shelved, leaving the city staff’s discretionary spending on the Gardiner open ended. Who was the impetus behind that decision is a mystery. Although, the Public Works and Infrastructure chair, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong was surprisingly frank about it with NOW’s Ben Spurr.
[Councillor] Minnan-Wong said that Waterfront Toronto staff decided to suspend the assessment “in consultation with the city of Toronto” after Rob Ford won the 2010 election.
“Given that there was a new mayor elected who was committed to keeping the Gardiner Expressway up – because he spoke about it quite publicly in his platform – Waterfront Toronto was no longer making that a priority,” he said.
“In consultation with the city of Toronto”? Who? The Mayor? The Mayor’s brother? The Public Works and Infrastructure chair?
On those questions, the councillor is a little more hedge-y.
What we do know is that it wasn’t city council that was consulted before the EA was put “on the far back burner”. For that somebody has to answer. Certainly before anybody hands over a half-billion dollars to get the expressway back into ship-shape including the eastern section where a decision has never been made to keep it standing or tear it down. Proper democratic process was circumvented. That is one fact that cannot be lost amidst the finger pointing and name blaming which has swallowed up the debate so far.
– not donely submitted by Cityslikr