Sunday, October 24, 2021

There’s Rarely a Good Time For Major Road Work

When a neighbourhood or business is impacted by major infrastructure projects, it is often frustrating, if not infuriating. When a business has struggled to endure more than 18 months of a global pandemic forcing closures, reopenings, capacity restrictions, followed by more closures and partial reopenings, a major infrastructure project blocking access to your restaurant can be a crushing blow indeed.

As reported this week, the owners of Tilly’s restaurant on Sykes Street are feeling financial strain as heavy equipment and a large hole in the ground crowd out the view of, and access to, their popular local restaurant.

A crushing blow it may be, but it is also somewhat of a catch-22, as there is rarely a good time for major infrastructure projects, there are always frustrations and losses. However this year the months of pandemic survival have made enduring several weeks in the heart of the typically busy and profitable summer months that many of our businesses rely on to sustain them throughout the colder, less busy months, a nightmare.

The timing is awful, there is no doubt about that. At the same time, this is a project that has been in the works for eons.

As was noted in a report to Council in June of 2020:

The main infrastructure replacement component for this project is the replacement of the existing 150mm cast iron watermain that was installed in 1894. Secondary to that, the road surface was last resurfaced in 1993 and has a Pavement Condition Index of 53-55, which is considered Poor. Failure to replace these assets will result in the Municipality incurring higher than anticipated maintenance costs and will reduce the Municipality’s ability to deliver its legislated levels of service.

No, that is not an error, the watermain in that section of road was installed in 1894, some 127 years ago, so it is long overdue for replacement, as was the road surface which had served us well for the past 28 years, but was long overdue to be replaced.

The tender for the project was approved by Council more than a year ago. The company with the winning bid has in the time since planned, organized, and prepared for undertaking the project this summer. I don’t disagree that it would have been beneficial to hold off in order to allow a local business to catch their breath and perhaps bring in some badly needed revenues due to the crushing impacts of the pandemic. At the same time, there are projects all over the province that are experiencing the same pressures; how many can be put off before we end up backed up even further on maintaining our infrastructure. Again, a catch-22.

Could the 127-year-old cast iron watermain have waited another year to be replaced? Perhaps. But then again, it could just as likely have failed and caused even greater problems, greater expense, and greater frustration.

Waiting until next year might have given the restaurant some time to breathe and get caught up, but the experience would be exactly the same, just 12 months down the road. I think either way it would have been a huge blow to the restaurant.

It is perhaps surprising that there aren’t better supports for businesses that are impacted by major infrastructure projects. It isn’t the business owner’s fault that the work is needed, it isn’t the municipality’s fault that they are undertaking the work, but when there will be, and are, known impacts that will hurt and possibly crush a small business, there should be supports at the provincial level that would soften the blow.

I certainly feel for the Tilsons. It is tough enough to keep a business going in a small rural town, but to endure a global pandemic that hit the restaurant industry much harder than most, and then just as the light is getting brighter, and we appeared to be seeing the end of the pandemic nearing, the shovels go in the ground, and there is a large hole in front of your business, and no way for customers to get to you.

My hope is that the work can be finished up as quickly as possible, and that the Tilsons can salvage whatever is left of this year, and survive the winter in order to have a summer without heavy equipment on their doorstep, and customers going elsewhere.

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