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‘We’re not punting this issue’ councillor says of Gardiner East debate

Day one of the Gardiner Expressway debate wrapped up at Toronto city hall on Wednesday night with no decision on the fate of the eastern section of the aging roadway.

At one point during the lengthy discussion, council voted against a motion by Coun. Jim Karygiannis that would have deferred the decision for 60 days.

“We’re not punting this issue. We’re deciding it tonight,” Coun. Frank Di Giorgio tweeted after the decision.

But after several more speeches the debate was set aside until Thursday.

Councillors must decide whether to tear down the Gardiner Expressway east of Jarvis Street in favour of a large “boulevard,” or go with mayor John Tory’s “hybrid” vision for the roadway, which would take down a small section of the elevated roadway but maintain much of what already exists today.

Wednesday’s council debate began behind closed doors, but moved into the council chambers this afternoon.

As many as 10 councillors, including former mayor Coun. Rob Ford are still undecided as the debate begins.

Those who have made their decision — who Coun. Josh Colle described as “warring tribes” at this point in the process — both made their cases.

Coun. Shelly Carroll, who backs the roadway’s removal, says tearing down the Gardiner gives the city the most “fluid options.”

“It gives us the ability to spread traffic over a larger area … we are only talking about a small number of cars,” she said.

But Coun. Frank Di Giorgio said the idea of a grand boulevard replacing the Gardiner is a dream for another day.

“I would say in another 75 years that might be something they can look at, but right now, no way.”

TTC chair pitches Gardiner sale

Ahead of the meeting, TTC Chair Colle pitched a new idea: sell the entire highway and spend the money on transit projects.

Colle, the Ward 15 councillor, plans to ask city staff to study the options when it comes to selling off or leasing the entire Gardiner Expressway, which stretches from Highway 427 to the Don Valley Parkway.

“We need to do something bold,” Colle told CBC Radio’s Here and Now about the need to generate transit dollars in the city.

Colle said the money would be spent on:

  • The future East Bayfront LRT line, which has council’s approval
  • The TTC’s State of Good repair backlog, which is in the millions
  • Tory’s SmartTrack plan

Colle is the latest councillor to pitch an alternative idea as the Gardiner East debate begins at city hall Wednesday. Previously, Coun. Jim Karygiannis said he wants the city to consider burying the eastern portion of the roadway – an option city staff has not put forward.

And Coun. John Campbell, who had been undecided until today, suggested whatever option wins will need to be modified by council. 

Campbell told Tory this morning that he considers the hybrid option “untenable” though expressed concerns about the removal option as well. 

Colle said there will be a lot of debate before council votes on the matter.

“I expect tonnes of motions and a long, long debate,” Colle said.

Keesmaat speaks to council

City planner Jennifer Keesmaat, who has been a vocal proponent of the remove option, was one of the first city staffers to answer questions on Wednesday — perhaps to the dismay of Tory, who had criticized her choice to speak out publicly on the issue.

“At the end of the day she has been free to express her opinion,” Tory told CBC’s Metro Morning host Matt Galloway on Tuesday when asked if he’s asked the chief planner not to speak about the issue. 

“The only thing, generally, I think public servants should not be doing is sort of debating politicians because they are public servants and there is a line to be drawn there.”

CBC | Toronto News