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(Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)
(Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)

Road Sage

A year-and-a-half to repair three small bridges? Add to ...

If you drive along Toronto's westbound Gardiner Expressway or Lake Shore Boulevard near Jameson Avenue, you will encounter a sign that reads "Bridge Work At Jameson Til Nov. 2011."

The sign refers to construction work on three overpasses. Most will assume it is just a bad practical joke. November, 2011?

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How is that possible? How can it take one-and-a-half years to repair three small bridges? Why the delay? Are they going to hammer on gold plate and suspend them by magic butterfly wings? Who is in charge of this tantric effort? Sting? Has it come to this? Given all the miracles of modern society, it seems impossible.

Here are a few recent breakthroughs we've heard about:

Researchers identified a gene that prevents stem cells from turning cancerous.

Researchers are using brain imaging to identify differences in childhood bipolar disorder and ADHD.

Scientists are creating a computer program that predicts drug side effects.

You'll notice: "Scientists finish mending three small bridges in a year-and-a-half" is not on the list.

This kind of disruption is not restricted to Hogtown where, along with the Gardiner abomination, there is never-ending construction on Bloor Street's "Golden Mile" and St. Clair (the patron saint of people stuck in traffic) Avenue. In Vancouver, the streets are always torn up; in Charlottetown, construction on University Avenue is driving people nuts and southwest Calgary is plugged with construction delays due to work on the LRT project. Even small towns are hit. In Perth, Ont., they're been working on Gore Street all summer. So far, they've succeeded in making it look like an unpaved crater.

All across our land, in fact, crews are busy working on infrastructure projects that, when times were good, were not deemed important enough to undertake. Apparently one of the side effects of the economic collapse was rust and decay because when the economy caved in 2008 the government stepped in and did what it does best - stimulate the economy with your grandchildren's inheritance. No, not on libraries, the arts, athletics, the environment, not even free Timbits for seniors; no, they threw our money at the biggest cow ever fattened - road construction.

But spending money means never having to say you're finished, a state perpetuated by the fact that no one ever seems to be doing any actual work. On the Gardiner, construction is officially supposed to occur between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Yet each time you pass, the place looks deserted. I will give a $2-million reward to anyone showing me actual footage of any human or animal (mule, donkey, ambitious stray cat) doing any sort of manual activity at these locations.*

If, by some fluke, you do happen to spy movement, it's usually five of six guys wearing helmets staring at a woman holding a yield sign. No one is working. They're looking. They are standing. They're improvising prose poetry. They are hanging out.

Some argue this kind of delay is unavoidable. Officials say the only way to quickly finish repair on the Gardiner was to close it down completely for four weeks. To which I would reply, "So close it down for the month of August." Most folks, given the choice between one sound beating and getting punched in the face once a day for a year-and-a-half, would choose the swift thrashing.

And so it's come to this. The nation that once carved a transcontinental railway through the Rockies without the aid of electricity requires 564 days to repair three municipal bridges.

One can only imagine what would have happened if the people responsible for municipal road works had been asked to plan D-Day. "Yes, sure," they would have said, "the largest amphibian invasion in history, no problem. We'll get right on that, but first we'll need a year-and-a-half to mend these three bridges." Let's just say this fall's Oktoberfest celebrations would be a lot better attended.

The upside? We've learned a valuable truth: In a world rife with deceit, you can't believe much of what a municipal bureaucracy tells you, but if it puts up signs saying that it will take a year-and-a-half to repair a few bridges, you can bet your last dollar they are telling you the truth.

What a piece of work is a man.

*I will not really give you $2-million.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

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