Popular myths of construction in the City of Toronto

Steve Johnston —

Recently, many people who travelled the Gardiner Expressway were frustrated when they saw no construction work taking place on the road, yet one lane of traffic was shut down. Some people contacted the City, asking why a lane was closed when no work was taking place there.

In fact, work was taking place at the site, but motorists couldn’t see it.  It was taking place underneath the roadway in preparation for future surface work.

This is just one example of the common myths about construction; situations that frustrate the public, when there is often a logical explanation for what is happening.

The case noted above isn’t the only example of a misunderstanding that relates to the city’s construction work and traffic coordination.  Here are a few more of the most common myths.


The City should have construction work done 24/7 to speed up all construction projects.

There are noise By-laws across the city that prevent construction work from taking place in residential neighbourhoods after 7 p.m.  The City has to balance the desire to complete work quickly with the interests of people living nearby who would be impacted by construction taking place late into the evening or overnight.

Even when neighbouring residents would not be affected by construction after 7:00 p.m., the City must also consider the additional cost.  There can be a significant cost premium to work extra hours meaning that fewer projects might be completed for the same amount of money.

Having said that, the City is looking at ways of extending work hours on a select number of construction projects to help reduce traffic congestion.


The city can’t complete construction projects on time or on budget.

In fact, most work is completed on time and on (or even under) budget.  In recent years, a large percentage of the construction projects managed by the City were completed on time and on budget.  But, sometimes there are good reasons why they might take longer than expected to complete. Schedules are set before the work begins, and once construction starts, crews might discover issues at the site that were unknown and unexpected.  The schedule has to be adjusted to allow time to do work that wasn’t originally anticipated.

It is also important to remember that the City isn’t the only organization that is doing work in the roadway. In fact, the City encourages utilities and other agencies to plan their work immediately preceding or following the City’s work. While that type of planning and coordination can produce cost-savings, and reduce the disruption caused by construction, there are times when the work that is being done ahead of the City isn’t finished on time. In that case, the City must adjust its construction schedule to recognize that sometimes delays are beyond its control.


Construction work can’t occur during the winter season. 

In fact, some work does take place in winter.  For example, underground work on watermains and sewers takes place year-round. Cold temperatures, however, limit the amount of work that can be done on the surface such as pouring concrete and asphalt for roads and sidewalks.

Long-term projects are the best candidates for year-round construction. Some portions of a major watermain rehabilitation project on Avenue Road and the Gardiner rehabilitation project are good examples of the type of project that can take place year round.


The city doesn’t do enough to coordinate construction work. 

Five years ago, the City established the Major Capital Infrastructure Coordination (MCIC) division that acts as a coordinating body for all groups – not just city agencies – that perform construction work in the city.  MCIC connects with all groups (the City’s divisions, utilities, transit and transportation agencies, and others) to make sure that construction projects are coordinated and that all agencies are aware of what other organizations are doing.  This coordination often enables the work of different groups to be bundled together, avoiding having one organization going back to the same street and tearing it up again.

In addition, Mayor John Tory established and chairs the Road Closure Coordination Committee.  Comprised of stakeholders including utility companies, TTC and city staff in charge of various divisions such as Transportation Services and Engineering and Construction Services, the group meets monthly to review road closure activity and ensure that every effort is being made to coordinate all road closures in the city.

For more information on the city’s efforts to coordinate construction activity, click here.


The city is responsible for all work taking place on city streets. 

While a significant amount of work is completed by the City such as underground construction on watermains and sewers, work on the surface involving construction of roads and sidewalks, and above-ground work on traffic signals, a large amount of work is non-city work and is completed by utilities and telecom companies.  Because those organizations share the roadway with the City, their work can often lead to the temporary closure of lanes of traffic.

The City makes every effort to manage the timing of non-city construction, but it cannot prevent that work from taking place. Therefore, the city works closely with those organizations to encourage them to stage or bundle their work with other construction that is planned in the same location.


The City should just say no to these organizations when they want to do work under our streets, resulting in congestion on our roads.

The City cannot do this.  The City is legislated to provide access to city roads for these companies to enable them to make changes to their underground infrastructure.


The city would be better off if it didn’t allow marathons and other events that result in road closures.

While some events result in inconvenience to travellers, marathons and similar events are part of the fabric of the City – events that many people like to participate in or watch.  These events bring athletes and spectators from all over the world to Toronto and generate millions of dollars for the local economy, create hundreds of part time and full time jobs and raise millions for local charities.

Toronto hosts many events throughout the year and that’s what helps to make it such a vibrant city.  When they take place, the City makes every effort to minimize disruptions to the public as well as making them safe for participants, spectators and our residents.


The city should coordinate traffic lights so that they turn green, one right after another.

It would be ideal if every vehicle entering the roads system could proceed through the system without stopping. This is not possible, even in well-spaced, well-designed systems. After all, if it was green for traffic in one direction only, traffic in the other directions would be constantly stopped!

The traffic signals on city roadways are generally synchronized or co-ordinated to minimize stops and delays on the main roads. In other words, the City tries to provide smooth movement of the traffic through groups of signals on our streets. The degree or quality of traffic signal co-ordination is influenced by a number of factors including the spacing of the signals along the street, the prevailing speed of traffic on the street, and the traffic signal cycle length.

The goal of signal co-ordination is to get the greatest number of vehicles through the system with the fewest stops in a comfortable manner while balancing the needs of pedestrians and vehicles travelling on cross streets.


Why can’t the city show and communicate all road closures taking place?

The city has a system to track planned projects and issues permits to carry out this work.  Planned work is currently posted on the city’s website.  At times, however, either as a result of poor weather or other scheduling issues, work cannot be completed as originally planned.  As a result, it is difficult to track the thousands of projects that take place on the roads each year.  In addition, emergencies occur that require work to take place on the roadway immediately.  The city is currently taking steps to improve communication to the public of both planned and emergency work.

And at last…FACT

It’s clear that there are more than just a few myths about construction or traffic movement in our city.  Sometimes things that don’t seem to make any sense are actually easily explained.  Rest assured, the city is working hard to both coordinate construction work and traffic flow while at the same time completing the important infrastructure improvements that need to be done to improve the quality of life in our community.

Steve Johnston is a City of Toronto communications coordinator