Mayor John Tory is making a final push to gain support for the rerouting of the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway, telling the Empire Club of Canada on Monday afternoon that he “did not get elected to make congestion worse.”

During a 30-minute speech to a packed room at Arcadian Court, the mayor said that removing the eastern portion of the crumbling highway altogether would cost Torontonians time that they could otherwise spend with their families and cost the city tens of millions of dollars in lost productivity from increased gridlock.

“There is a fundamental question we have to ask ourselves here, which is ‘Do we think it is right to do something that we know will make traffic congestion worse?’ and ‘Are we ready to take more time away from people?’” Tory said. “If we tear down the Gardiner East we will be saying to people that ‘Your time isn’t important to us.’ The fact is those that say that we can tear down the Gardiner East and the traffic will sort itself out, they are dreaming. We simply cannot sever the link between the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner and not dramatically affect the quality of life for people in this city.”

Tory says traffic has to go somewhere

Tory’s speech comes two days ahead of a council meeting, where the fate of the 2.4 kilometre stretch of the Gardiner between Lower Jarvis Street and Logan Avenue is expected to be decided.

During that meeting, councillors will consider two options, neither of which has been formally recommended by city staff.

The first option would see the elevated expressway removed completely east of Jarvis Street and Lake Shore Boulevard widened to eight lanes to accommodate the displaced traffic while the so-called “hybrid” option favoured by Tory would see the highway rerouted between Jarvis Street and the Don Valley Parkway with a new exit put in at Cherry Street.

A study commissioned by the Canadian Automobile Association previously suggested that the removal option could add 10 minutes to the commute of those who rely on the highway, however a number of other experts have said the impact would be closer to two or three minutes.

“The traffic has to go somewhere. This notion is peddled out there that the traffic is somehow going to vanish, it is going to disappear, they say. Well, do we really believe it is going to disappear and if not where will it go?” Tory said on Monday. “It will go on key east-west arterial streets that are pretty clogged up as it is but it is also going to go on streets that are residential. It is going in front of your house or your condo or your apartment and suddenly there is going to be traffic there that used to bypass those kinds of neighbourhoods.”

Though Tory has been vocal in his support of the hybrid proposal, an increasing number of councillors and city leaders have thrown their support behind the tear-down option in recent days, including former mayor David Crombie, former city planner Paul Bedford and a group of 14 developers.

Those in support of the tear-down have argued that by removing the highway the city could restore access to the waterfront and unlock valuable real estate for development.

They have also pointed out that the cost of the tear-down option, estimated at $461 million over a 100-year-period, is considerably cheaper than the $919 million price tag attached to the hybrid option for the same span of time.

The immediate cost for the hybrid option is estimated at $336 million compared to $240 million for the tear-down option.

Addressing attendees on Monday, Tory pointed out that access to the waterfront is primarily restricted by the rail yard in the Port Lands and not the Gardiner.

Tory also cited a study that suggested that removing the Gardiner East could cost the city $37 million a year as a reason to pay the extra money now to keep the highway in place.

“I remain convinced that my position is the most sensible balanced position for the mayor of the entire city to take. I am not the mayor of downtown developers, I am not the mayor of one part of the city or another and I am not the mayor for cars or for bikes or for trucks,” Tory said. “I am the mayor of one Toronto, the mayor who must take the broad interests of all Torontonians into account. The hybrid option is the best way to keep our city and the economy moving, the best way to unlock potential and value in emerging areas and the best for investment and jobs.”

Vote likely to be closest of Tory’s mayoralty

This week’s vote on the fate of the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway is likely to be one of the closest of Tory’s mayoralty.

So far a total of 15 of 44 councillors have said that they will support the hybrid proposal while a number of others, including Deputy Mayor Pam McConnell , have spoken out in favour of the tear-down option.

Speaking with reporters following his speech on Monday, Tory said he is “optimistic” that he will get the necessary support when it comes time to vote but isn’t concerned about what a loss would say about his administration.

“What it says is a tight vote on a very controversial issue happened to come up in the first six months of my mayoralty,” he said. “I don’t think it is any commentary on me whatsoever, I would say that what I have done is have the courage to do my job and to speak with balance and care about the option that I think is best for the entire city.

Remember for instant breaking news follow @cp24 on Twitter.