Construction, Done Well
Everyone agrees on the need to improve the state of infrastructure in the city. Yet this must be done in an intelligent way.
Montreal has well known cases of poorly planned construction and its impacts on local neighbourhoods and businesses, such as the replacements of water mains along Saint Laurent Boulevard in the late 2000s and construction along Saint Denis Boulevard several years later. It took years for these commercial arteries to recover. Luckily the current work along Sainte Catherine Street is less painful. Clear and easy access to all shops has been a priority, with sidewalks being torn up after roads are finished to prevent isolation of stores.
Sadly, Gatineau hasn’t learned the same lessons as Montreal. The construction along Saint Joseph Boulevard is an example of what not to do. Businesses across from Galleries Hull are barely accessible, and clientele is a fraction of what it was prior to this upheaval, pandemic effects aside. Finding a way to the doors of shops, cafes and restaurants in this area is like navigating a maze. And the situation will continue until the end of the year, if not longer. The project has also been expanded several times since it began, pushing back timeframes to finish and nearly doubling the initial cost estimates.
At first thought, the pandemic seems to be contributing to a perfect storm, further depressing sales at shops, restaurants and cafes in the area. Yet in fact the pandemic is keeping businesses afloat, via the financial lifelines for lost revenue in the Covid era provided by the federal government. Businesses are compensated for all lost revenue, which in practice ends up covering them for reduced business caused by the construction as well. This has allowed many businesses that would normally have been driven into bankruptcy or forced to move elsewhere to stay open at their current locations.
The city may take the wrong lesson here. On the surface it seems that the construction is in fact not so devastating to shops’ revenues, since businesses are largely surviving. Yet with the current approach from the city’s planners, other commercial streets could see a catastrophic impact once their own major road works begin in the years to come. After all, the federal Covid support payments won’t last forever.
Although an upcoming major construction project at Place des Pionniers in Aylmer is unlikely to involve substantial road work, without proper planning the impacts on local businesses could still be substantial. Roads and sidewalks should only be blocked off when absolutely necessary, not for the convenience of those working on the site. Reducing timeframes to align more with private sector projects would also be a major improvement. Although Place des Pionniers will be a fraction of the size of L’Initiale and other condo projects, it will take substantially longer for the construction phase. Expansion of plans once the project is underway should also be avoided whenever possible. Sufficiently fining construction companies that miss deadlines would give an incentive for them to better organize and allocate resources.
Planning this project properly will avoid further bankruptcies on Rue Principale