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Councillors want work on Gardiner to be sped up

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A motion calling for measures to speed up construction on the Gardiner Expressway is before Toronto City Council today as drivers in the city already feel the pinch of construction work which is scheduled to go on for years.

The motion, tabled by Coun. Brad Bradford and seconded by Coun. Jon Burnside, asks city staff to report back to council by the fourth quarter with a plan to accelerate work and minimize traffic impacts.

“I see it in Facebook groups, people stop to talk to me on the street; they are losing hours of their day to congestion in the city and none of that’s coordinated,” Bradford said. “The idea that we are going to tie up a major artery like the Gardiner for three-plus years with no end in sight, that’s unacceptable.”

He added that “the past seven weeks have been horrendous for people.”

The Gardiner has been reduced to two lanes of traffic in either direction for nearly two months now as major rehabilitation work gets underway to rejuvenate the crumbling expressway from Dufferin to Strachan.

The work is the second part of a five-stage plan to repair the aging and heavily trafficked highway. This stage is expected to last for around three years, but drivers are already expressing exasperation about the increased congestion.

Speaking with reporters ahead of the council meeting Wednesday, Mayor Olivia Chow called the motion “redundant” and said that city staff are already coordinating meetings with industry experts so that they can manage the congestion and reconstruction.

“This is a demolition, a rebuild of the Gardiner. This is not repair work,” Chow said. “Literally you have to shore it up on one side so you can demolish the other side while using the Gardiner. That’s really quite difficult.”

She said that staff are nonetheless working with the current contractor to develop a plan for accelerating the construction through expanded 24/7 work.

“They are testing noisier demolition work during overnight hours, with some monitors in the nearby residential areas to make sure there’s no dramatically negative impact to the residents who need to sleep at night so they could get to work in the morning or just get to school,” Chow said.

She said an update is expected at the Infrastructure Committee within the next few weeks.

 

Report indicates there could be little money for new infrastructure

Other types of infrastructure are also on the agenda at city hall, with council weighing an asset management plan which shows a $26 billion hole in the city’s 10-year plan to maintain the infrastructure necessary to maintain current service levels.

Some councillors slammed the federal and provincial governments for tasking municipalities with maintaining critical infrastructure without providing adequate funding to do so.

Coun. Lily Cheng suggested Mel Lastman Square, with its broken central fountain and poor state of repair, could be a great place “to shoot a zombie movie.” She said she feels like “there’s a dystopian future awaiting us” in which the city can’t afford to build infrastructure like community centres to keep up with its growing population.   

“I want to say to anyone who’s looking to shoot a zombie movie, if you need a set, come to Mel Lastman Square,” she said.

She said the city needs the province and the federal government to provide more sustained funding.

Speaking with reporters, Chow said the provincially-mandated infrastructure report means that “you will see that we will have to say no to a lot of new projects” when the capital budget is tabled in a few months. However she added that “we will say yes to all things that we know need to be fixed.”

“I want to be very, very strongly disciplined to say until we get the federal and the provincial government in, we’re not going to rush ahead and build anything new,” Chow said. “However we will put in as much money as we can.”

The interim report was adopted by council Wednesday. A final report is expected in July.

 

Council pays tribute to Robinson

City council also paid tribute Wednesday to Coun. Jaye Robinson, who died last week following a battle with breast cancer.

Robinson’s husband and children were in attendance as her council colleagues reflected on her dedication to public service, even in the face of a difficult illness.

“Whether it’s online tributes, media interviews or in conversations with some of my colleagues, a few words keep popping up: devotion service and commitment,” Chow said. “If you ask anyone in her ward, they would tell you that Jaye Robinson was an unstoppable force for Don Valley West.

“And I must say, watching her continue to show up at every single council meeting, every committee and board meeting, even when she was undergoing chemotherapy, she continued her courageous fight, but also continued her public service.”

Chow said a decision has not yet been made as to whether council will appoint someone to fill Robinson’s vacant seat for the rest of her term, or hold a byelection. Council can take either option according to the Municipal Act, however Chow said the matter will likely be dealt with at the next council meeting. She said she thinks it’s likely that council will opt for a byelection, with two years left in the term.

Council was in recess for most of Wednesday morning to allow members to pay respects to Robinson’s family, and to attend a funeral being held for Coun. Shelley Carroll’s father, who recently passed away. 

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