Where the Sidewalk Ends: Construction Season in Montreal

“There are four seasons in Canada: almost winter, winter, still winter, and road construction.”

In most major cities, where the sidewalk ends where the street begins. It is construction season in Montreal; the period running from the end of winter throughout the summer and sometimes deep into the fall.  During this season, new signs tend to appear around the city displaying messages such as “rue barré” or “trottoir barré utiliser l’autre trottoir” denoting the fact that previously operational sidewalks and streets are no longer usable (presumably due to seasonal maintenance work that is either planned or currently in process). These closures, although periodic in nature and finite in duration, often pose major issues for Montrealers—routines must be adjusted, additional traffic will certainly be encountered, and one must exercise patience and understanding when dealing with police officers directing traffic and often confusing signs sending drivers and pedestrians on diversions.  It is fair to say that all of the construction within Montreal, Quebec, and Canada as a whole during this time of year requires an initial investment not only in terms of public funding and resources but also in regards to time and patience; we endure these inconveniences now with the objective of having usable roads and sidewalks in the future.

Because we are making a tradeoff in terms of capital and convenience, it is worthwhile to examine the nature and specifics of this seasonal transaction.  Montreal is currently awash with detours and road closures in almost every neighbourhood from Pointe-aux-Trembles to L’Ile-Bizard (including the street on which your correspondent resides which has been under construction since August); over the Thanksgiving weekend parts of the Decarie Expressway (a major cross-island thoroughfare) and the entire Ville Marie Tunnel were closed for repairs.  Furthermore, many of the bridges which carry commuters and travelers to and from the Island of Montreal have been the focus of major repairs and have been subjected to travel and weight restrictions. Montreal is in a period of increased construction and maintenance ahead of the winter, the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Canadian Confederation, and the 375th anniversary of the founding of Montreal itself.

There is much work to be done. For decades various governments and projects have underinvested and mismanaged funds destined to be used in the amelioration and construction of infrastructure throughout la belle province.[4]  In July 2016, the Quebec and the Trudeau government reached an agreement contributing $1.3 Billion over the next three years in federal funding towards road, transit, and water projects within Quebec (including many projects within Montreal itself). The allocation of federal funding, which totals $120 Billion and is to be distributed in phases over many years to the provinces, should be welcomed by citizens wary of cracked sidewalks, pothole-riddled highways, and broken Métros; however, it should be treated as an opportunity rather than a gift.  Though underinvestment in Montreal has been a major issue, the pernicious threat to effective public spending on infrastructure is the widespread corruption in the awarding and spending of money relating to public works projects.  This rampant abuse was evidenced through the testimony and results of the Charbonneau Commission which not only uncovered plagiarism and corruption with regards to the designs of the new McGill University Hospital Centre (MUHC) but widespread bid-rigging and price-fixing within the construction industry for municipal public works contracts within the City of Montreal (where two consecutive mayors resigned) and neighbouring Longueil. In light of the enormous amount of impropriety within the Quebec public works construction industry, Justice France Charbonneau stated that the corruption was “far more widespread than originally believed."

In the end, Montreal must increase its municipal focus on improving and fixing infrastructure; furthermore, the city, province, and the nation need to ensure that the public funds spent on construction are not only awarded and dispensed ethically, but also that the projects are conducted in a manner and completed to a level of quality that is consistent with what is required by the public.  Investments in infrastructure are expenditures that help build the future; the future will not only be enjoyed by ourselves but our children (who mark and know where the place where the sidewalk ends).


John Butler

Works Cited

Picture titled, "Winter Walk.", taken by Jazmin Million on February 25, 2012, obtained through Creative Commons (https://flic.kr/p/bycBLe)

Reference to Shel Silverstein’s poem “Where the Sidewalk Ends”

Article was written on October 14, 2016

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