It’s a common clichÃ© here in Canadaâ€”we have only two seasonsâ€”winter and road construction. As I drive around the city and surrounding countryside I’m experiencing my annual surge of anger and frustration with the state of our transportation system. Once the snow melts, roads and highways are cordoned off, lanes reduced and then nothing happens. IFÂ there’s any activity on the site, two bored-looking workers are wandering around with a shovel in their hands but most often there’s nothing going on. I realize road and highway maintenance and improvements are necessary and we need the end result. I just wish some actual work would take place and more quickly. How much can two lowly workers achieve by themselves, even with a backhoe?
The answer to the problem is simple. I learned it from watching home construction in Florida. Blitz the job with workers and get it over with. In Florida, I’ve watched the concrete trucks arrive early in the morning, pour the slab, then the (Mexican) workers finish it and leave at the end of the day. The next day another crew of a couple of dozen workers arrives, erects the block structure followed the next day by different crews who frame the entire house inside and out, and then they go home at the end of the day. Finally, a roofing crew arrivesâ€”well, you get the picture. We once had our entire property including, sod, trees, and shrubs landscaped in a day. There were probably twenty workers on the job. Everything was planned out in advance and the work fell into place like clockwork. The secret is careful planning and scheduling and maximizing the use of labour. Why can’t road and highway construction be done the same way? The same amount of labour is expended and the cost is the same; it’s just compressed into a much tighter time frame. Bring in crews of dozens of workers and git ‘er done.Â
Does it take a genius to properly plan a construction project far enough ahead to maximize resources in the shortest possible time period? Having worked in the construction industry for most of my 40-year career, I witnessed fifty-storey office buildings go up and be occupied in less time than it takes to rework an intersection. If major hospital construction can proceed concurrently with the performance of health care and surgeries without closing services, why can’t altering a street or road? Part of the reason for this is the total absence of actual work happening on road construction sites most of the time.
Want your grandchild to make good money and have job security?
This problem is a positive argument for immigration. In the 1950s, thousands of Italians immigrated to Canada and were the heart and soul of the construction industry building major cities like Toronto. They worked hard, contributed to the community and raised a generation of equally hard-working offspring who went to college and university. And, now the industry is suffering from a lack of tradespeople. Construction unions and employers have been waving the red flag about worker shortages for years. Our blue-collar workforce is shrinking and young people are being encouraged to ignore high-paying trade jobs in favour of going to university for degrees in dubious careers like psychology, kinesiology or women’s studies. Not everyone is well-served by going to university.
While I’m on the subject, it’s not just hands-on tradespeople who are needed in construction. The industry is crying out for estimators, schedulers, software developers, project managers, field engineers, superintendents, health and safety professionals, mechanical and electrical coordinators, project accountants, proposal writers, draftspeople, and on and on and on.
So, what are we to do while we negotiate around blocked off streets and construction bottlenecks? Maybe we should be sending those illegal immigrants who are sneaking across rural borders down to the union hall and putting them to work instead of providing free winter parkas and housing. Those people fleeing political terror in Central America who are being rejected at the Mexican border would be welcome in Canada, if they’re willing to work to rebuild our infrastructure and go through proper legal channels.
I realize my rant will change nothing. Until I’m in charge of running the world, I’ll have to put up with all of life’s frustrations and inconveniences. I’ll avoid my usual Walmart because Dundas Street has been a sewer construction nightmare for two years. Thank the heavens above that I no longer live near Kipling subway station at Dundas and Bloor Streets. A long-overdue rework on that intersection (Six Points) will be a local traffic disaster for who-knows-how-long.
I’ll also steer clear of the 427 and QEW interchange because heaven knows how long that project will last. And we won’t even discuss the 401 across the top of Toronto; it’s beyond words. I had to change my doctors from North York to Mississauga because traffic getting to their offices was such a nightmare. Just getting across the city and back took the better part of a day. Imagine all the unreported lost productivity incurred by businesses when their people are sitting in traffic jams.
It’s a shame Toronto and the provincial government were so short-sighted in keeping our subway system and transportation networks robust and up to date over the last few decades. Highway 407 is great, but, dang, it costs a fortune to drive it, unless you can expense the costs, which only adds to the net cost of doing business. As retired seniors on a budget, we avoid it.
As boomers age and lose our drivers’ licenses, we’re going to increasingly rely on public transportation that probably won’t be completed in our lifetime. Hopefully, our children and grandchildren will get it figured out and fix the mess. In the meantime, encourage them to have lots of babies because the construction industry needs workers. And hopefully one of them will be smart enough to reinvent and re-engineer the approach to road and highway construction. Unfortunately for us boomers, by then it’ll be too late. We’ll be dead. The upside is that my rants will be silenced.