Residents along Avenue Road in Toronto received notice of a major summer-long construction project four days before the work began, making the joke that Canada has two seasons – winter and construction – a reality for people who have already lived with traffic tie-ups for three years.
They are among many Toronto commuters and residents dealing with major construction projects this summer. A water-main replacement project on Bathurst Street will slow traffic well into the winter. Residents and travellers along Kingston Road in the east end will be crawling through traffic until December as the streetcar track and water mains are replaced and roads are resurfaced. While Union Station has been undergoing a full-scale renovation, traffic on Front Street has been moving at a turtle's pace since 2011. Also, Tuesday marked the beginning of the complete restructuring of the intersection of King Street West and Spadina Avenue, including the streetcar tracks, which will close that area completely to vehicular traffic for two weeks.
All this means more headaches for a city touted as having some of the worst traffic in North America.
Those headaches began for Avenue Road residents in June, 2010, when work started to repair more than 51/2 kilometres of water mains. That project lasted two years and was completed on time and on budget. Many residents thought the nightmare was over – until they received notice less than one week before this summer's $4-million project began, reducing four lanes of traffic to two.
One business owner had large orange and black pylons blocking the front of her patio for a week before she received notice on June 6 that construction would start June 10. "I had to drag them away," said Heran Choi, owner of Seven Grams Espresso Bar at the corner of Webster Avenue and Avenue Road.
Then when construction began, she said, "People couldn't really pass [in front of the café] for over a month. It was continual."
The short notice has some residents up in arms. A city staff member said there is no limit set for advance warning of construction work. "There is no standard amount of time [to give notice] for maintenance-related work," said spokesperson Steve Johnston in an e-mail.
Josh Matlow, councillor for St. Paul's, has fielded questions from his constituents about the repaving work.
"The city dropped ball on that [giving notice]," he said.
Mr. Matlow has suggested that city staff make changes to the signage and the information handed out before a project begins to prevent the kind of confusion he and neighbouring Councillor Karen Stintz have seen since early June.
Resurfacing began on the Eglinton-Lawrence stretch of Avenue Road at the end of July and Ms. Stintz says her constituents questioned why the road was resurfaced prior to the start of the water-main work, only to be resurfaced again now. When she put that question to city staff the response was that, "Avenue Road was getting to the point where it needed to be fixed and it couldn't wait until the water main work was done."
Residents say they haven't been told why the project has dragged out for three years. "It has the feeling of not being co-ordinated," Ms. Stintz said.
Residents say they didn't know there is a two-year warranty on water-main work, and that the city won't repave the road until the warranty expires. The largest section of the water-main replacement work was completed in February, 2011. The final work was commissioned by the city in September, 2012, but due to the construction warranty, repaving could not start until this June.
"We definitely don't want a brand-new road until that warranty period is finished," explained Albert Ulisse, a supervisor with the city's transportation department who is in charge of the final phase of the project.
The warranty period lasts through two "freeze-thaw cycles."
Utilities and groundwater are two other factors that can delay large construction projects in a city as old as Toronto. The maps of city infrastructure look like a complicated knot of multi-coloured yarn.
"I just know from experience, looking at these drawings, to make heads or tails of all of the network of pipes and wires we have to see it at a big enough scale," Lou Di Gironimo, a manager at Toronto Water, said.
For this project, the design drawings, including the placement, depth and type of utilities, are so large and numerous that they are approximately an inch thick. Those drawings dictate how a project is handled, either by open-cut method above-ground or tunnelling. The latter is significantly more expensive and necessary in the downtown core where maps of infrastructure both current and abandoned are not perfectly accurate.
There is some consolation for residents along Avenue Road and other arteries clogged by resurfacing projects: there is a citywide, five-year moratorium on construction after the completion of major repaving work.
And the resurfacing work from Bloor to Eglinton is due to wrap-up by mid-August – one month ahead of schedule.
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