A major change is coming to the Gardiner Expressway through Toronto's burgeoning South Core area, as plans are moving forward for the replacement of the highway's York-Bay-Yonge off-ramps. Built at the beginning of the 1960s, the ramp stretches from Rees Street in the west to Bay Street in the east, carrying eastbound traffic off of the Gardiner, and distributing it to three streets that head into the core. While replacing the winding and spiral ramps with a shorter one, the length of the original ramp will be opened up, significantly boosting the City’s long-term effort to reconnect the core with Lake Ontario.

Existing (top) and future conditions (bottom, by DTAH), southeast from York & Lake Shore, image courtesy of the City of Toronto

A 2013 Environmental Assessment Study recommended the removal of the existing ramp and the construction of a new, shorter ramp to Harbour Street, touching down at Lower Simcoe Street. Other recommendations—which will be carried out later this year—included the widening of Harbour Street from 3 to 4 lanes, new streetscaping and cycling infrastructure, and a new park on the current site of the existing ramp’s spiral portion—the design for which has still yet to be determined. 

Facing west at the future Lower Simcoe off-ramp, image by DTAH

In addition to improving streetscapes, minimizing an existing barrier between the city and the lake, and creating a new public space in an increasingly congested area, the new replacement ramp—shorter, but wider—will continue to serve the same volumes of traffic currently supported by the existing ramp.

Existing ramp just south of the Gardiner Expressway, image retrieved from the City of Toronto

The first phase of construction activity for the replacement structure was conducted between July and December 2016. Preliminary work during this phase included the construction of new foundations and substructures for the new ramp piers, and the relocation of underground infrastructure such as fibre optic cables and sewers. While a multi-use trail was closed between Rees Street and Lower Simcoe to make way for construction equipment and personnel, no closures of the Gardiner Expressway were needed for the preliminary phase, though there were indeed some temporary lane restrictions during off-peak hours on Lake Shore Blvd.

View over the ramp's west end, image by Forum contributor drum118

Final work on foundation and substructures for new ramp, as well as installation of new catch basins and stormwater leads on Harbour Street are expected to continue through March, making way for the next phase of work which will be carried out in overlapping work schedules between April 2017 and January 2018. The new phase will kick off with the demolition of the existing ramp between April and June, following its closure on Monday, April 17th.

Current conditions at York and Harbour, image retrieved from the City of Toronto

Hydro relocation work will be conducted through May and June, while construction of the replacement ramp will be conducted from June to August. This will be followed by the September installation of an automated de-icing system on the ramp. The widening of Harbour Street to four lanes and associated streetscape upgrades like pavers and street trees will be carried out between July and January.

Future conditions at York and Harbour, image retrieved from the City of Toronto

The land where the spiral ramp is currently located is the property of Toronto's Transportation Department. Already a green space with a lawn a mature trees, a path cuts diagonally through it to Queens Quay at the entrance to WaterPark Place's new RBC Tower. The space will have to close this summer as the ramp comes down, but it will be transferred to Toronto's Parks Department once Transportation is finished with the demolition. The intention currently is to leave some of the piers in place, as per the remaining piers at the old east end of the Gardiner near Leslie Street, to potentially be used as part of a new park design.

Toronto Parks is expected to begin planning of the 8,000 square metre space this summer, with the intention to begin construction of the new park at the beginning of 2018. We will follow along as the ramps progress through construction and the park design comes to public consultation. In the meantime, you can review up-to-date information and several more images by visiting the project’s dataBase file, linked below. Want to get involved in the discussion? Check out the associated Forum thread, or leave a comment using the field provided at the bottom of this page.

Related Companies:  City of Toronto, DTAH