Keesmaat commits to tearing down eastern portion of Gardiner Expressway

Keesmaat commits to tearing down eastern portion of Gardiner Expressway
Keesmaat unveils plan to tear down part of Gardiner Expressway for grand boulevard
It was a divisive topic at City Hall a few years ago and now mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat is reigniting the debate of what should be done with the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway.

In 2016, city council approved a billion dollar plan to tear it down and rebuild it further north. Now, Keesmaat is calling that plan fiscally reckless and pledging an alternative that she says will save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

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 Torontos 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.

“We have an opportunity here, in 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, ” said Keesmaat, who is now advocating for a grand boulevard east of Jarvis.

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.

“And we can build new communities, with new jobs in retail and employment and affordable housing, places for people to live by unlocking this land and instead replacing it with a grand boulevard.”

Keesmaat says her plan would save taxpayers up to $500-million – money, she says, that would be reinvested into transit.

“It costs significantly less to build infrastructure on the ground than to rebuild it in the sky.”

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.

Mayor John Tory says Keesmaat’s announcement contradicts earlier statements she made when she was chief planner, extolling the benefits of the hybrid plan and her team’s work on it.

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.

“The fact that the city council, by a vote of 36-5, approved this expressway being moved and put in a new place where we can fee up more waterfront land for development on a plan that at the time Ms. Keesmaat took credit for and said her wonderful staff did a wonderful job, which they did, on putting forward this plan… is another example of what’s now going to happen,” said Tory. “She’s going to take us backwards and we’re going to go back to the drawing board to more debates after a decisive council decision and it’s solely to win votes.”

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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.

What a miserable choice the people of Toronto have. How many people have signed up for a run at the big chair and who are they? The media has really messed up here, I wouldn’t vote for either of the two highlighted by the media

Rich Candidate wants to do what rich people want, a nice new waterfront neighbourhood only for the rich.

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.

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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.

Toronto mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat has unveiled a plan to tear down the eastern part of the Gardiner Expressway and replace it with she calls a "grand boulevard."

"We can build new communities with new jobs in retail and employment and affordable housing — places for people to live — by unlocking this land," Keesmaat said at a news conference on Sunday.

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 is really about creating a livable city. It's about creating a sustainable city. It's about creating a green city, and it is about moving Toronto into the 21st century."

Keesmaat said her plan would cost $500 million less than a project championed by Mayor John Tory and approved by council in 2015. That project would see portion of the Gardiner torn down and then rebuilt. 

During the 2015 debate, Tory repeatedly and misleadingly claimed drivers could save up to 10 minutes using an unrealistic study. The city, working to minimize delays, put forward a removal option that would have increased travel time, on average, by just 52 seconds. The number of drivers travelling west on the eastern section of the Gardiner during the morning rush hour, staff reported, totalled just 5,200 — a small percentage of all morning commuters.

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

"We know that we can't be adding more cars into to the downtown. There's not enough room on the streets to be doing that," she said.

“This is about ensuring we’re not throwing good money after bad,” Keesmaat told the Star after Tory’s remarks. “It would cost an astronomical amount not to reverse course on this, and we have a responsibility to the taxpayers in the city as well as to our children and future generations to solve this mess once and for all.”

"We know that we can add more people and more pedestrians if we build better transit that really makes transit a true choice in every corner of the city." 

Keesmaat was criticized by the mayor and those close to him for voicing her support of the boulevard option as chief planner during the original debate. Nick Kouvalis, again a key strategist on Tory’s campaign, tweeted in 2015 that she was “insubordinate” and suggested she resign to voice her opinion as a private citizen.

Keesmaat has already spoken out against the Gardiner, calling a council decision for the multi-billion dollar rebuild "frivolous spending" in January.

Keesmaat was criticized by the mayor and those close to him for voicing her support of the boulevard option as chief planner during the original debate. Nick Kouvalis, again a key strategist on Tory’s campaign, tweeted in 2015 that she was “insubordinate” and suggested she resign to voice her opinion as a private citizen.

In response to Keesmaat's announcement, Mayor John Tory said her plan would dump thousands of vehicles — including large trucks — into downtown neighbourhoods and would pose a risk to the environment and public safety.

"I don't think people have any time for that kind of flip-flopping," he said. "The risk of what she's putting forward on the flip-flop is something that will be very damaging to neighbourhoods in the downtown part of the city."

Keesmaat's team told CBC Toronto that she has been consistent that tearing down the Gardiner is in the best interest in the city. 

The “grand boulevard” option, as Keesmaat and other city builders, planners and advocates for the option have long called it, would replace the council-approved plan under Mayor John Tory to rebuild the 1950s-era elevated expressway and maintain the decked connection to the Don Valley Parkway.

"Once debate was done and council voted Jennifer frequently tweeted support for the work of her team," director of media relations for the Keesmaat campaign Beth Clarkson said in an email.

The “grand boulevard” option, as Keesmaat and other city builders, planners and advocates for the option have long called it, would replace the council-approved plan under Mayor John Tory to rebuild the 1950s-era elevated expressway and maintain the decked connection to the Don Valley Parkway.

"She was obligated to work with the will of the previous council and because of John Tory's weak leadership as Mayor, she is in this race to win and to make changes to the city that are in the best interest of all."

In a news release on Sunday, Tory said Keesmaat's plan was a "risky and costly move that will further delay the redevelopment of the entire area."

Tearing down the structure would unlock valuable land underneath through a shorter construction period and better connect the rest of the city to the waterfront, Keesmaat said. It is the first major campaign promise that sets her firmly apart from Tory ahead of the Oct. 22 election.

He added that the city awarded a $313 million contract in June to "rehabilitate" the Gardiner and its connection to the Don Valley Parkway, and he questioned how much it would cost to cancel that contract to enact her plan.

“This kind of a structure is really a relic of the past,” Keesmaat said, standing in front of the Gardiner on Sunday morning. “Forward-looking cities are tearing down their elevated expressways and instead creating new communities and new places.”

Council narrowly approved building a "hybrid" version of the elevated expressway — one championed by Tory — in 2015. That option was more expensive than bringing the highway down to ground level, and could cost some $2.3 billion.

Tory previously defended the decision, saying council's choice was made in "best interest of the city." Earlier this year, the mayor gave no indication that the city would reconsider the plan.

In 2016, city council approved a redevelopment plan for the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway by a vote of 36-5, the most expensive one of the choices available.

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