$1 billion cost increase could reopen Gardiner debate at council
Workers repair a section of the Gardiner Expressway in this file photo.
Joshua Freeman, CP24.com
Published Wednesday, November 30, 2016 1:18PM EST
The debate over whether to tear down or rebuild a stretch of the Gardiner Expressway could resurface as councillors digest a staff report revealing that the rebuild could cost $1 billion more than planned.
Last week city staff released a report warning that the estimated cost of fixing the Gardiner has gone up to $3.6 billion from the $2.6 billion that was projected about a year ago.
The increase was mainly attributed to uncertainty about whether the federal government would commit to the project, envisioned then as a public-private partnership.
City staff told CTV News Toronto on Tuesday that the old financing model is no longer viable given the absence of federal commitments.
“We just can’t support the billion dollar increase in the project cost if we were to follow that type of procurement,” Michael D’Andrea, the city’s director of engineering said.
D’Andrea said city staff are recommending going back to a conventional “design, bid, build” approach that could shave some of the cost off the project.
But given the uncertainty around the cost, some councillors are saying that council should re-examine the option of tearing down the eastern portion of the Gardiner in order to build a cheaper at-grade boulevard.
“I would be one to support reopening the debate to examine which option is the best going forward,” Coun. Mike Layton told Newstalk 1010 Wednesday.
Layton said that even if staff are able to find ways to keep costs down in the short term, he’s not confident that the price tag for the project wouldn’t continue to balloon in the future.
Council narrowly rejected the boulevard option in favour of the rebuild plan in a 24-21 vote last year. However Layton said he doesn’t feel there would need to be a special vote to reopen the debate given the new information about costs.
“The rules of debate say that when new information comes forward, there’s grounds to reopen the debate,” Layton said. “I think $1 billion is certainly enough new information for me.”
Coun. Joe Mihevc, who was in favour of the boulevard option, said he thinks other councillors might have a change of heart given the higher cost estimate.
“If there are councillors there who develop some sticker shock in the next little while, then you could see a very very different result,” Mihevc said Tuesday. “I do think it’s time for us as city council to do a rethink on the eastern portion of the Gardiner. That is now costing us way beyond what we expected. Why – to save four lights if we brought it down to grade? It’s time for us to say let’s bring it down to grade the way every city around the world is doing, save billions of dollars – I think that’s the investment we should be making as Torontonians. “
Coun. Glenn De Baeremaeker called the new estimate for the project “Jaw-dropping” but said he’s still not sure there’s an appetite for a new debate around the project.
“We’ve done the dance for so long – we’ve gotten so far down the path that I can’t see people saying you know what, we’re just going to start from square one all over again,” De Baeremaeker said.
Instead, he said he’d like to see the province and the federal government step up with funds. He pointed out that the Gardiner and DVP were given to the city as part of provincial downloading more than a decade ago.
Mayor John Tory, who championed the ‘rebuild’ option for the Gardiner, said earlier this week that he’s not interested in reopening the debate around the Gardiner.
“No matter what decision is made, no matter by how big a margin at city council, there are always those who want to reopen them, usually the people who are on the losing end of the vote,” Tory said Monday during a news conference.
Despite the funding shortfall for the project, the mayor said last week that he would not use money that might be collected through proposed tolls on the Gardiner and DVP to pay for the Gardiner project.
As for the federal government, a statement from Federal Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi’s office appears to indicate that the door may still be open for federal funds.
“In the design of Canada’s historic infrastructure plan, the consideration of new projects under P3 Canada was paused,” the statement reads. “The associated funds are now available as part of our long-term plan which includes a dedicated $10B stream for trade and transportation. If the City of Toronto wished to submit a request for funding under our new plan, we would consider it.”
However there was no indication of when the federal government might respond to a new bid.
City staff have said that repairs to sections of the crumbling Gardiner are urgent and need to be completed as soon as possible.