Toronto’s crumbling Gardiner Expressway is in worse condition than we thought

Concrete fell off the Gardiner Expressway between Lake Shore Boulevard. and Fort York Boulevard., closing a portion of Bathurst Street. (CBC)

Those bothersome chucks of concrete falling from Toronto's elevated downtown highway are the tip of a much larger iceberg when it comes to structural problems surrounding the Gardiner Expressway.

Hidden concerns, hundreds of hazards and the threat of holes being punched through the risen roadway have been exposed in recently-obtained documents, which shed new light on a $500-million request for repairs.

The Toronto Star reports that city engineers fear that nearly half the elevated section of the Gardiner Expressway is quickly becoming structurally unstable. Portions of the 57-year-old structure could be within six years of the end of its life, according to documents obtained by a freedom of information request.

It's a hell of a thing to learn this late in the game.

Slabs of concrete falling from the elevated Gardiner have become a very real concern, highlighted by several instances this past summer.

More on the Gardiner:

All the while, city engineers have urged residents to relax, assuring us that falling pieces were superficial and that the road itself remained structurally sound.

That appears to be a directed half-truth. The problem is larger than reported, and the structural integrity of the expressway is far more uncertain.

Global Toronto reviewed more than 2,000 internal documents and emails, highlighting hundreds of threats between 2009 and 2012.

The documents note on two occasions the potential for "punch throughs" — places where a heavy vehicle could punch a hole through the elevated road.

Keeping the public in the dark is one thing. If there was no immediate threat, perhaps staff can be forgiven for not riling up the masses. Perhaps. But there are serious questions about how much city councillors were told.

An outside report on the threat of the Gardiner, obtained by the Star two months ago, was kept from the mayor's office and Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the public works committee.

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Minnan-Wong was also surprised by the new details about the state of the Gardiner, telling Global Toronto:

I was not aware of these reports that suggested there were punch-throughs and that these problems existed… There is a sense of discomfort that the words of our engineering staff just don't square with what your gut says about the Gardiner Expressway.

All this comes as city council decides on whether to approve a $505-million repair bill for the Gardiner Expressway.

How was city council expected to decide on the request without knowing the full state of disrepair? These newly-released details could lend new credence to those calling for the elevated expressway to be razed, and perhaps replaced a more expensive tunnel system.

Whatever the decision, now that the real state of the Gardiner Expressway is known, Toronto finds itself stuck between falling rocks and a hard place.

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