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traffic congestion

With one westbound lane closed, traffic leaving downtown Toronto along the Gardiner Expressway is bumper to bumper on April 28, 2014.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Tim Shuff is dreading going to work next week. The firefighter lives in Leslieville and works in Mississauga. His commute involves detouring around road work on Leslie St., now several months old, and a new patch at Queen St. East.

And then he has to traverse the Gardiner Expressway/Lake Shore Boulevard construction gauntlet that has many Toronto motorists seething.

"The construction delays are piling up," says Shuff, an ironman triathlete, adding that he can now bike the 38 kilometres to work in close to the same amount of time it takes him to drive.

Frustrated Toronto drivers took to Twitter to call for the heads of certain city transportation staff this week when orange signs went up indicating "intermittent" lane closures on Lake Shore Boulevard from now until July.

Closures are part of life on the road, but when the closed lanes are supposed to catch overflow from the long-term closures on the elevated Gardiner Expressway, directly above Lake Shore Boulevard, motorists could be forgiven for thinking someone was trying to add insult to injury.

That's not the case, says Stephen Buckley, general manager of Transportation Services for Toronto. The work is being done now, he says, for several reasons.

And the main one revolves around a city primping itself for the Pan Am Games while trying to confront a backlog of road repairs. Central to this backlog is the work being done on the Gardiner Expressway, which will be going on for at least a decade. Factor in the maintenance needs of Hydro One and the result is closed lanes, stopped traffic and angry motorists.

The city is scheduling the lane closures to avoid rush hour, and Buckley says that, except when absolutely necessary, only one lane will be closed at a time. "Our estimation was that it wouldn't cause significant issues. And from watching the cameras this week, it hasn't."

Toronto committed to a freshly refinished surface for Lake Shore Boulevard before athletes take to it on foot and cycle during races at next July's Pan Am Games.

When the city announced last year it would be resurfacing Lake Shore, Hydro One said it needed to repair its underground vaults. The trenches that were dug during that work were filled in, but the fill material had to settle before the final resurfacing could be done, so the city had to wait.

"We don't always have the ability to stand in the way of utility companies," says city councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee.

Minnan-Wong says extensive planning goes on behind the scenes to make sure utility work and road maintenance are co-ordinated for minimal disruption.

"Ninety-five per cent of the time we find ways to work things out, but you only hear about the five per cent of times that don't work out," he says.

The disruptions represented by that five per cent share is expected to grow over the next few years as the city grapples with a repair backlog that Minnan-Wong describes as a "coming wave."

"We've been deferring maintenance to satisfy previous budgets for years," says Minnan-Wong. "The day of reckoning is here."

Buckley says that over the last two years, city council has increased the amount of money for rehabilitating major arteries by $32 million, from $38 million to $70 million. Minnan-Wong says he'd like to see even more investment.

All of which means more orange construction signs on the increasingly smooth roads ahead.

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