A salty diet is killing the Gardiner Expressway.
No wonder the Gardiner Expressway is falling apart, given the avalanche of road salt that hits it every winter.
A freedom of information request made by The Star resulted in the release of a report by an outside engineering firm that found sizeable cracks, spalls (pieces that have detached from a larger mass), problematic patches, and/or splitting in six areas where no signs of surface deterioration had been detected, along its sides and underbelly.
The report concluded that the Gardiner is rife with deteriorating chunks of concrete that pose a significant risk to public safety, and it is impossible to guarantee that pieces won’t fall off in the future, in spite of precautionary measures.
The city is moving to increase the budget for Gardiner repairs from $15 million to $35 million, but I don’t think fixing it is worth the expense.
As long as the solution to keeping the Gardiner passable in winter is to pound hundreds of tonnes of road salt onto it every year – and there is no viable alternative - the elevated section will continue to deteriorate.
The expressway is 60 years old and the invoice for fighting ice and snow is a lot more than the cost of road salt and trucks to spread it, as we are now learning.
Our freeze-and-thaw climate requires even more road salt than other cities where the cold weather is more continuous.
Moisture on the road warms up during the day and then freezes at night, requiring lots of salt to keep it from turning icy.
Bridges (or elevated expressways) need even more salt to prevent freezing, which relentlessly seeps into the concrete and eats away at the steel reinforcement within.
It doesn’t take a structural engineer to understand the effects of a steady diet of salt for more than half a century, and connect it to the chunks of concrete that keep falling from the Gardiner onto Lake Shore Blvd. beneath it.
We found a reference in Stormwater, a journal for surface water quality professionals, to a study by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation that says “road salt rarely jeopardizes the structural integrity of bridges (but) its corrosiveness damages bridge decks. Chloride ions penetrate concrete and corrode reinforcing rods, causing the surrounding concrete to crack and fragment.”
It seems to me that the deterioration of the Gardiner will only get worse, given its age and the need to keep pouring salt onto it, which calls into question large expenditures to deal with erosion that will only get bigger.
And it leaves me wondering when about the disasterous possibility that an entire section of the Gardiner could simply collapse. It's happened before.
City politicians have always ducked from trying to sell the prospect of tearing down the Gardiner – and opening up the waterfront – from a driving public hostile to anything that slows down traffic.
Here’s their excuse.