Mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat says that the city can unlock valuable waterfront real estate and save up to $500 million by knocking down the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway and replacing it with a widened, eight-lane version of Lake Shore Boulevard.

In June, 2015 city council narrowly voted in favour of a plan to rebuild a 1.7-kilometre stretch of the aging highway from the Don Valley Parkway to Jarvis Street rather than knocking it down.

The plan was favoured by Mayor John Tory and his allies but it was opposed by a lengthy list of stakeholders, including 14 development corporations that sent an open letter to all 44 members of council ahead of the vote.

At a campaign event along the Martin Goodman Trail on Sunday, Keesmaat announced that if elected on Oct. 22 she will work to get council to reconsider the decision and instead support the demolition of the eastern portion of the highway.

In 2015, staff estimated that the cost of knocking down the highway and widening Lake Shore Boulevard would be about $461 million. That is compared to an estimated capital cost of $718 million to reroute and rebuild the highway.

“We have an opportunity here with this eastern portion to continue the job that was begun many years ago of opening up our waterfront land and reconnecting our city to the waterfront,” Keesmaat, who served as Toronto’s chief planner back in 2015, said. “This is really about creating a livable city, it is about creating a sustainable city and it is about moving Toronto into the 21st century and correcting the mistakes of the past with a forward-looking plan.”

Impact on commute times ‘miniscule’

During the debate over the fate of the eastern Gardiner Expressway, staff estimated that tearing down the highway could slow down the rush hour commute for drivers by three to five minutes.

Keesmaat, however, said such an impact on commute times is relatively “minuscule in comparison to the city building benefits” of the tear-down option.

Staff have previously estimated that by tearing down the eastern portion of the Gardiner, the city could unlock an additional 12 acres in prime waterfront real estate.

“This kind of structure is really a relic of the past. Forward looking cities are tearing down their elevated expressways and instead creating new communities and new places,” Keesmaat said.

Keesmaat called the decision to rebuild the eastern portion of the Gardiner rather than tearing it down “1950s planning” and chided Tory for his role in pushing it through.

For his part, Tory criticized Keessmaat for ignoring the will of council in favour of “turning around and going backwards” while speaking with reporters at a community event in Leaside on Sunday afternoon.

“The reality is there are going to be cars and trucks that are going to be driving in the city and I would rather they go around the downtown neighbourhoods than into the downtown neighbourhoods, which is what the result of her plan would be,” he said.

Tory told reporters that his plan was passed with an “overwhelming” 36-5 vote at city council, though that is not entirely accurate.

Council, in fact, only voted 24-21 in favour of rebuilding the eastern portion of the highway back in 2015. The 36-5 vote came a year later when council was presented with three options on how to proceed with the rebuilding of the highway.

“We sat down with everybody involved and got an overwhelming 85 per cent vote…,” Tory said on Sunday.