Would John Tory’s around-the-clock construction idea really get Toronto’s roadwork done faster?
Alongside his other plans to fight gridlock, John Tory wants to take a serious look at conducting road repairs and construction projects around the clock (rather than only during normal work hours), as a way of getting them done faster. “We’ve got to look at what the cost implications are and we have to be sensitive to the needs of residential areas,” he told reporters at a mid-July press conference. “But the bottom line is that we need to do more work on a 24/7 basis to get these jobs done faster and reduce congestion.”
WOULD IT WORK?
In some sense, it already does. Around-the-clock contracts, in which work continues at all hours until a project is complete, are already commonplace. “It’s happening all across Ontario on different jobs for various reasons,” said Geoff Wilkinson, executive director of the Ontario Road Builders’ Association. But, he added, “projects aren’t designed for 24/7 work.”
Night work comes with special challenges. Artificial lighting can lead to safety risks, and low visibility prevents workers from being able to assess conditions properly, Wilkinson says. Also, chilly nighttime temperatures can be problematic during the colder months of the year.
More pressing is the availability of labour. “Our labourers tend to work during the day,” Wilkinson says. “We have a pool of workers who are willing to work 24/7, but obviously that’s not the norm.” In addition to workers willing to take on irregular shifts, all-hours contracts would require mechanics, specialists and administration to be available at all times.
Even if the city were able to find the staff to support such projects, paying all those workers is another issue. A 24/7 contract would logically take roughly the same number of work hours as a standard contract, but a significant number of those hours would be during nights and weekends, requiring shift premiums (up to a few extra dollars per hour) as well as time-and-a-half and double-time pay.
Despite all the obstacles, though, all-hours contracts already exist, so what might stop them from becoming more prevalent in Toronto?
Anyone who’s been woken up by construction (i.e., anyone) can probably guess: noise. A 24/7 construction project outside of a major urban centre (repairs on the 401 outside of Milton, for example) is much different from a similar undertaking in the middle of a densely populated downtown area, where noise tolerance is significantly lower. With exceptions for some types of municipal projects, Toronto bylaws prohibit the use of construction equipment within earshot of residential areas outside of the hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturdays; Sundays and holidays are completely off the table. A 24/7 project, therefore, would normally need to apply for, and be granted, an exemption from typical noise restrictions.
If a John Tory-led city hall were the driving force behind all-hours contracts, getting such exemptions probably wouldn’t be an insurmountable challenge. The experience needed to pull off a 24/7 project wouldn’t be a hitch, either: Wilkinson says his organization has already reached out to Tory with an offer to provide expertise and advice.
“It’s possible,” Wilkinson says of all-hours contracts. “Within our industry, we like to say that we can accommodate just about anything.” Ultimately, he adds, it comes back to how much a client is able to pay. 24/7 contracts get jobs done quickly, but they’re also significantly more expensive. The million-dollar question, quite literally, is whether the city is willing to foot the bill.
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