Tory Leader Patrick Brown should step up for the Gardiner and DVP: Phil Gilles

Enterprise Municipal Practice Lead Phil Gilles writes about the need to address issues with the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway. The article originally appeared in The Toronto Sun

By: Phil Gilles

Toronto has a traffic problem. And it has a money problem. And the two problems are rapidly colliding.

The city’s downtown core is served by just two city-owned highways, the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway.

Both are jammed with traffic most of the day and sometimes much of the evening, too. Drive times and driver frustration are on the rise.

Oh, and the Gardiner Expressway is falling apart. The elevated expressway opened to traffic in 1964.

Successive Toronto councils have failed to maintain the structure properly, and now the estimated cost to fix the highway is close to $3 billion.

Meanwhile, Toronto desperately needs more transit. Indeed, new subways, heavy surface rail and light-rail projects are planned and approved — but often with little money attached to build them. The grand tally of unfunded City of Toronto transit and infrastructure projects sits at $33 billion.

Mayor John Tory floated two ideas in 2016 to raise capital for infrastructure – to sell off part of Toronto Hydro that ran into strong opposition from council and the public and a toll on the Gardiner and DVP.

The toll proposal initially won support from council and, at first, from Premier Kathleen Wynne, whose government needed to grant regulatory approval for the proposal.

Then the plan went public and the you-know-what hit the fan.

Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown came out strongly against tolling, in a pitch to stand up for the beleaguered commuters from the 905 and the outer 416 suburbs, as did the provincial NDP — despite the fact their party colleagues on city council supported it.

Wynne started to hear a storm of anguish from her Liberal caucus members and the public and in January, hastily reversed her position and nixed provincial approval for tolling the two highways.

Wynne, meanwhile, doubled the municipal share of the provincial gas tax, from 2% to 4% — a $170-million gesture appreciated by Tory, but one that failed to blunt his stinging criticism of the Province for telling council what it could do with roads the city owns and maintains.

So, what next? With a commanding lead in the polls, and a provincial election coming in June 2018, Brown must start thinking about governing.

We know what he’s against — tolling the Toronto highways — but what would he do as premier to help a cash-strapped city with its highway problem?

The answer: Brown should announce his government would upload the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway and make them part of the provincial highway system.

His government, if elected, would assume the land, operation and policing of the two highways and responsibility for the pending rebuild of the Gardiner.

In return, Brown’s team could address existing provincial capital commitments to transit in Toronto.

There are currently funds pledged for streetcar replacement, the Scarborough subway extension and other projects, exceeding $2 billion. This doesn’t include electrification costs for GO lines to accommodate Smart Track, but these and future transit commitments could be adjusted to allow for the new provincial commitment to the Gardiner.

There is an advantage to Toronto in this.

At present, the city has no federal funding for the Gardiner rebuild. Indeed, there seems to be little enthusiasm in Ottawa for this proposition.

The federal government would rather put its money into transit. Their 2017 budget speaks of investing $20 billion in transit over the next 11 years.

So, I would argue allowing the city to put its $3 billion into transit projects rather than having to invest it in the Gardiner is a much better use of funds and this investment is much more likely to leverage federal funding.

And if Brown allows the city to keep the additional gas tax funding already doled out by Wynne, Tory can put that to good use on other road projects around the city.

Finally, the province is in the highways business. They have the experience and tools to fix the Gardiner — I’m betting at a lower cost than projected by the city.

There are, of course, operating costs attached to running the two highways, but they are not huge numbers — about $8 million a year.

Current annual maintenance costs of holding the Gardiner together are much higher — $39 million in 2016, but will almost disappear after the rebuild.

Then there’s policing — everything from stalled vehicles to pulling over speeders and dealing with serious accidents.

There about 3,200 police incidents a year on the Gardiner and DVP, and assuming calls average $1,000 each — that’s around $3 million per year, another saving for the city as policing would be handed over to the OPP.

Overall, running the two highways should not be too big a pill for would-be premier Brown to swallow.

There it is. A plan that would see Patrick Brown become a champion of urbanites and a city-building premier, without earning the ire of suburban commuters.

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