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Gardiner East: Infrastructure for the past will hurt Toronto's future

The Gardiner East.
The Gardiner East.

Not to brag, but I happen to have a very specific set of psychic powers. I can see the future of municipal infrastructure projects.

For example, I can tell you, with uncanny certainty, all about the future of the Gardiner Expressway East.

Last week, Toronto City Council voted 36-5 to confirm their support for the “Hybrid 3” plan for the 1.7-kilometre stretch of highway, which links the Gardiner with the Don Valley Parkway. The plan will cost about $600 million more than simply removing the elevated structure and replacing it with a regular road, which was the original expert recommendation.

Here’s what will happen next.

About a year from now, as Mayor John Tory and councillors consider the city’s budget, transit riders will again hear all about how the city simply can’t afford to pay for all the necessary improvements to TTC service.

They’ll hear this even though a majority of city politicians saw titanic costs as no deterrent to their support for the Gardiner East project. They’ll hear this even though relatively low-cost improvements to transit – like investing an extra $15 million per year in bus maintenance – would objectively provide more benefits to more commuters than maintaining this bit of highway.

But my psychic visions don’t stop there. Within the next two or three years, as the design process is completed, people will get word that the approved configuration will cost more and take longer to build than expected.

That’s not even the worst thing I’m seeing in this project’s future, though. The worst part comes maybe 10 or 15 years down the line. That’s when the culmination of demographic and technological trends will make it clear that Toronto’s huge spend on an expressway in 2016 was the equivalent of investing big in beeper technology right before the advent of the smartphone.

So much points this way. All around the world, more people are opting for urban lifestyles that don’t leave them dependent on cars. Fewer young people are bothering to get drivers licenses. The city’s own data shows that virtually all of the new inbound commuters to Toronto from now through 2031 will be transit users.

Meanwhile, those that remain in cars will eventually hand over control of their vehicles to automated computer programs. These friendly robots likely won’t require things like elevated expressways to work efficiently.

I’d like to be at least a little wrong, but I don’t see how.

The truth is that it doesn’t usually take psychic powers to foresee Toronto’s infrastructure mistakes. They’re massive and supported by nothing but concrete.

This post was originally published at on 2016-04-03T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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