Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Perpetually under construction? Not if Smitherman has his way

I don't live in Toronto anymore, I just play there on weekends. And I'm not sure whether Toronto mayoral candidate George Smitherman's plan to make contractors pay for overly delayed road construction is practical or implementable, but I'm willing to bet it will be a popular promise.

Heck, as I run the gauntlet of Guelph's construction maze, I'm wishing that there were councillors and mayoral candidates willing to propose the same thing here. I live about a 10 minute drive from the university, and have had to detour from the most direct route about 80% of the time since I moved into my current house over two years ago. The main north-south street (Brock-Gordon-Woolwich) has been under perpetual construction since I moved to Guelph over three years ago, usually with a complete blockage of at least one direction at any given point. I pity the poor businesses on the south end of Wyndham, which has been completely ripped up for the past two years. On some mornings, not only is my main route blocked, but so is at least one major alternate. And don't get me started on what happens in winter, when many of the residential alternate roads are essentially down to one lane, shared by both directions of traffic.

Of course, this probably wouldn't bother me so much if I routinely saw construction crews working on the torn up segments. But I would estimate that on about 50% of sunny days, many of the ripped up segments are vacant. It's as if at the start of the spring, a bunch of crews go around, rip up all the city streets that are supposed to be repaired in a given year, and then a single repair crew slowly makes its way around the city to fix everything. At least to the uninformed layperson's eye, it doesn't seem to be the most efficient or traffic-friendly approach.

I don't put on my "grumpy ratepayer/letter-writer to the local free paper" hat very often, but this issue does get me riled up. End of rant - please return to your regular business!

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At 10:05 am, Anonymous Eamon said...

This isn't the fault of contractors. Municipalities have been given a ridiculous and impossible deadline to have all of this construction done (March 1, 2011), as the money to do it is linked to the "Economic Action Plan". As a result, municipalities have been forced to do all of their projects at once (and because most major infrastructure work takes about 6 months to plan and get approvals, almost all of it has been pushed back to this summer).

The contractors are hired by the municipality; it is the municipality's fault if they don't hire enough workers to simultaneously work on all job sites. If you want to go farther, because the federal government forced a very short timeframe on municipalities, the blame for ripping up all of the roads at the same time falls on them. Also, there aren't enough infrastructure contractors/resources to get all of the work done, putting both municipalities and contractors in a rough spot.

This is the primary reason why I thought it was stupid that the "Economic Action Plan" focussed so heavily on infrastructure renewal. The Feds and Province are just copping out of a long-term solution to infrastructure problems, and other industries weren't helped in the same way. I mean, wouldn't it have been awesome if they had beefed up the rebates for environmentally friendly home renovations? Or helped pay for more transit busses (which would have helped the auto industry)?

At 10:12 am, Blogger Matt said...

I'm in agreement with you on this one Eamon. The EAP is a complete gong-show.

In terms of your suggestions - here's a radical idea: a substantial government investment in real, progressive infrastructure improvements, like a proper (maybe even high-speed) rail system in the Windor-QC corridor, and a beefed up commuter train system. But long-term investments with major payoffs were not what this government had in mind. It's all about (American-made) signs, signs, signs...

I'm a bitter, bitter man these days :)

At 12:44 pm, Anonymous Eamon said...

I agree that Canada needs a long-term infrastructure plan. I would actually also suggest that the provinces can't be let off the hook for two reasons. First, they own the municipalities, if there is an infrastructure issues it is THEIR issue and they should be fighting for it. Second, one of the reasons many municipalities (particularly in Ontario) can't pay for infrastructure maintenance (never mind improvement) is the other expenses related to downloaded services... municipalities provide more social support now than they ever have.

I agree with highspeed rail, but before that happens we need to give municipalities the ability to pave the roads that currently exist..

At 6:21 pm, Anonymous Eamon said...


Not that I'm complaining... but I'm kinda surprised you haven't commented on Rob Ford's lead in the polls... considering how much of a disaster his election would be for the City of Toronto I'm surprised you decided to write about Smitherman...

At 6:32 pm, Blogger Matt said...


I'm in deep, deep denial about the insanity that is going on in Toronto, and when I wrote this post, I was more thinking about touting a potential vote-getting idea for one of Ford's rivals.

People have been likening Ford to Mel Lastman, but at least when Lastman was mayor of North York, he was moderately competent, and a booster for the city. I see no hope for a city run by Ford, and at least hope that city council stops him from doing too much damage. You would think Torontonians were smart enough not to repeat Ottawa's error - Larry O'Brien has been a complete disaster there.


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