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Why Toronto Should Bury the Gardiner

Posted on July 16, 2010
Written by Babak Eslahjou

The Gardiner Expressway has generated much debate, numerous studies, and many colourful proposals as to how to fix it. Rather than fix it, we should remove it altogether and bury it and Lakeshore Boulevard, finally reconnecting Toronto to its waterfront.

The area around Lakeshore Boulevard and the Gardiner Expressway as it currently exists.

Many don’t acknowledge it, but the six lanes of the Lakeshore Boulevard are also a barrier to our waterfront (as identified in Brook and Van Nostrand’s Gardiner Expressway Transformation study in 2004-05). We’ve come to accept walking under the Gardiner and across its six lanes of fast moving traffic when walking from places like the Air Canada Centre down to the waterfront. This experience is far from welcoming.

The solution is a 12-lane, six-kilometre, below grade tunnel, consisting of collector and express lanes. At street level, a new low speed, two lane roadway in the character of King Street, with dedicated CO2-free lanes would effectively move cars, bikes and pedestrians towards the lake along the north/south streets such as Yonge, Bay and Jarvis.

The counter argument to this idea is that it costs too much, and references are made to Boston’s over budget Big Dig project.

We must dismiss these quick conclusions and look to the many completed and successful traffic tunnel projects around the world. For example, the four-lane, 5.6-kilometre Dublin Sea Port Tunnel opened in 2006 and was developed successfully for $955 million.

Proposed changes to the Gardiner/Lakeshore area.

When considering how to fund a project of this size, one must consider that the Gardiner and Lakeshore run through some of Toronto’s most valuable real estate. The collective right of way of the Gardiner and Lakeshore is 60 metres, on average. If the new appropriately scaled surface roadway requires 20 metres, the remaining 40 metres is available for development of new residential, commercial, institutional, cultural and sporting facilities, and parkland.

By conservative estimates, the land value under and around the Gardiner is worth approximately $3 billion. Add up the sale of the land surface rights, development fees and the future tax generation potential of this land, and it would offset a sizable portion of the tunnel’s cost. The other upside is that the orphaned and inaccessible parcels of land adjacent to the Gardiner will also breathe new life, increasing their value and future tax generation potential.

This funding model of selling off public land for new development has already been used successfully to generate capital to cover the costs of new subway and light rail transit tunnels in Copenhagen. Similar models have been used to generate capital in Barcelona, Japan and the United States. Toronto may be the first to use this funding model to bury roadways, but it’s a proven model. Now is the time to move Toronto forward by eliminating past infrastructure scars, and yes, finally reconnecting to our waterfront.

Babak Eslahjou is a partner at Core Architects. The firm has designed more than 40 residential projects in downtown Toronto.

See our previous coverage of this project and potential solutions here.

5 Responses to “Why Toronto Should Bury the Gardiner”

  1. [...] And why Toronto should bury the Gardner Expressway. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Motordom [...]

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    James Lew says:

    I agree with the general thrust of the notion presented, which in the long run has merits;
    1. Arterial roads present a major barrier to the waterfront (a given).
    2. Repurposing Gardiner’s structure may seem green and clever at this juncture, but is short-term thinking. Limits potential opportunities for future generations – removal is best long term strategy. Why substitute one barrier (maintenance cost centre) for another???
    3. Tunnel solution offers benefits for grade level usage (both public and private). Precedents are available – as noted. Other components of infrastructure need to be included; e.g. utilities, transit, to maximize benefits. This will be costly.
    4. Notion of leveraging real estate value embedded within the right of way offers multi-level innovation for funding and design, which I believe is really a strength of this approach. That said, selling the public asset will present political challenges, not to mention future economic factors.

    A champion org for such an enterprise would be mandatory to drive a holistic master plan with clear program/benefits, gain political support, define roles for both public and private parties, facilitate innovative technology, and understand risks.

    Anybody interested?

  3. John Chick says:

    Finally, a reasonable idea appears on the web regarding this. I’ve always thought the new expressway should be buried under the existing rail corridor, given that it is a corridor. No question that Lakeshore is the true barrier – if the Gardiner ran above another land use rather than a road that serves partially as a collector system, people wouldn’t complain about crossing underneath it.

    These are the ideas that need to be heard, because I fear the TWRC have some very specific goals that include tearing down the only major express route in North America’s fourth largest city in order to make an anti-car political statement. And then, when the “enhanced 10-lane Lakeshore” arterial road fails miserably because it’s too dangerous for pedestrians to cross, there will just be more illogical anti-car rhetoric.

    As usual however, the problem is money – the feds hate Toronto, the province is incompetent so who pays for it? I am all for tolls because at least it would provide financing.

  4. [...] have been a multitude of formal reports and informal ideas about what to do with the Gardiner. Burying all or part of it as proposed in a 1999 study, is sexy and high concept, but with the city and the province in fiscal [...]

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