Toronto targets 'abandoned' construction lane closures and the traffic headaches they cause

Mark Tenaglia, head of the Downsview-Roding Neighbourhood Group, says residents are fed up with traffic jams caused by construction sites where no construction work seems to be taking place. (Mike Smee/CBC News - image credit)
Mark Tenaglia, head of the Downsview-Roding Neighbourhood Group, says residents are fed up with traffic jams caused by construction sites where no construction work seems to be taking place. (Mike Smee/CBC News - image credit)

A North Toronto city councillor wants the city to tackle one of the things that frustrates drivers most in this city — traffic jams caused by closed lanes where no construction work is actually happening.

Coun. James Pasternak's motion, which was approved at this week's council meeting, calls on staff to tackle road construction projects that close lanes almost indefinitely.

"We are seeing more and more neglected and unattended road construction sites city-wide," Pasternak's motion reads.

"My office has received complaints from numerous constituents expressing concerns over seemingly vacant work sites, sometimes displaying scattered tools, machines, and construction materials."

Pasternak's motion comes at a time when traffic is returning to pre-pandemic levels in a city that has long had to contend with roads choked by construction. He calls on staff to review all road projects, with a special eye to what he calls "abandoned construction sites" and ensure that crews are living up to the schedules they've presented to the city.

Mike Smee/CBC
Mike Smee/CBC

"We need enforcement," Pasternak told CBC Toronto.

"We should also have our field ambassadors go out and meet with the subcontractor and tell them that it's unacceptable and that there could be consequences in the future, such as fines or losing contracts."

'It's dangerous'

One of the groups Pasternak heard from is the Downsview-Roding Community Group, headed by Mark Tenaglia, who lives near Wilson Avenue between Keele and Jane Streets.

Traffic jams there are an all-day, everyday affair, Tenaglia says, because two of the road's four lanes have been closed for maintenance for about a month, work that rarely seems to be happening.

"We're absolutely fed up with this," said Tenaglia. "You can imagine people coming home from work, being stuck on this two-kilometre stretch of road for half an hour or even longer."

As well as the hassle for drivers, Tenaglia and Pasternak both say roads that are impassable because they're overloaded with traffic can hinder emergency vehicles. Tenaglia points to an entrance to a paramedic station on Wilson that is routinely blocked by stalled traffic.

"It's dangerous," Tenaglia said. "Imagine you have emergency services trying to get through this stretch of road that has all this construction."

Tenaglia also worries about frustrated drivers abandoning Wilson, and instead speeding through nearby residential streets.

He says Wilson is not the only street in the area that seems to have been closed for little reason.

Mike Smee/CBC News
Mike Smee/CBC News

"We have a lot of construction that's been happening in the side streets, changing water, sewer services and things like that," he said.

"They've taken out the pipes, put new ones in, but the streets aren't necessarily resurfaced. So you have horrible, horrible driving conditions and a lot of construction that's kind of left undone."

Lane closures about safety, road builders say

As for people who say road construction is a normal part of life in Toronto?

"I know we have to upgrade services and stuff," said Tenaglia.

"It's when we have a site that's been abandoned for I can't even remember how long it's been, and then it causes risk to the community," he added.

"It's just unacceptable."

The Ontario Road Builders Association disputes the idea that construction sites have been abandoned. The association says lane closures only happen with a street occupancy permit from the city, and if lanes are closed, it's usually for safety reasons.

"Safety of both the workers and the general public is the top priority of all parties," John Savoia, the chair of the association's health and safety committee, said in a statement.

"Any lane closures which have been installed are there protecting something and someone, whether it's during working hours or after hours."

As for the closure on Wilson, city staff told CBC Toronto the headaches should soon be over.

"The city's contractor encountered underground conflicts while upgrading the storm and sanitary sewer system that runs underneath Wilson Avenue," the statement reads.

"To ensure the safety of both workers and residents in the area, construction was paused and designs were revised. Work is expected to restart within two weeks and be complete within three months."