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Norris Blog: Road work in Hamilton done quickly; why not here?

Published May 16, 2014

Four years ago, on a Friday night about midnight, I found myself in the worst traffic jam of my entire life.

It was July 30, 2010, and I was returning to Toronto from a speedway out near Brantford. As I drove east along Hwy 403, there were a whole bunch of signs beside the road that said things like this:

“Construction ahead. Major delays. You will be stuck forever. Pack a lunch. Find another route. We’re serious.”

Well, maybe the signs didn’t say that exactly, but that was the message.

So I said to myself (as did about 10,000 other people): “Ah, it can’t be that bad.” Several hours later, I had another thought: “What was I thinking!”

The backup on the 403 — a full and complete stop — started just east of the Lincoln Alexander Parkway cutoff, right at the top of the Niagara Escarpment. You know the road. From the “Linc,” the 403 goes down the “mountain” and it usually takes — what? — one or two minutes from top to bottom.

On this night, it took four hours.

I was driving a Dodge Challenger. It had a standard transmission. Have you ever had to creep along for four hours, riding a clutch? Every now and again, I would get a cramp in my left foot or leg and have to stop the car, turn it off, open the door, get out, hop around until the cramp went away, and then get back into the car and start it up and move it two feet. (If I didn’t move the car, I would get honked at or else somebody in another lane would try to cut in front of me, as if any of us were going anywhere.)

I wasn’t the only one who was uncomfortable. People were getting out of their cars and walking over to the shoulder and going to the toilet. I felt particularly badly for the women because there really wasn’t anywhere to hide.

Four hours later — yes, I really am serious — I got to the bottom and came across this marvelous scene (the traffic had finally all funneled into a single lane and we were being directed off the highway at this point). There was major construction work going on, all right: they were removing and replacing an entire overpass over a six-lane highway in one weekend.

I want to repeat that: they were removing and replacing an entire overpass in one weekend.

There were several huge cranes, probably about 100 people working, large lights had turned night into day and it was a full-on highway construction assault.

I was very angry at myself for not believing the signs that told me to stay away but impressed beyond belief at what I saw going on there.

It was the start of the long August weekend. I checked the Hamilton Spectator the following Tuesday to find out the details. In a nutshell, they replaced the Aberdeen St. bridge over the 403. They chose a three-day weekend because they figured it would take 80 hours. But they worked so hard and were so efficient that they opened everything up 29 hours early. The replaced an overpass in 51 hours – a little more than two days working around-the-clock.

They did it because, according to the transportation minister of the day, “this will allow us to provide for continued flow of traffic and very little disruption to the people of the community.”

That transportation minister was Kathleen Wynne, now the premier of Ontario.

The process and the technology and the equipment all exist.

So can somebody explain to me why it is going to take three years to replace some guardrail and rebuild some sections of the Gardiner Expressway, where very few construction people are actually seen working after 3 in the afternoon and not at all on the weekends and traffic transporting millions of people to their jobs and their recreation and their homes is being disrupted beyond belief?

nmcdonald@thestar.ca

The Toronto Star for Wheels.ca

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