Why Toronto Should Bury the Gardiner
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.
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.
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.