“The orange cones, there are too many and they are too big, immediately recognizes Émilie Thuillier, head of infrastructure on the executive committee of the City of Montreal. At the moment, the rules for their presence and their layout are calibrated on highways and streets where things go very fast. In town, on streets at 30, 40 or 50 km/h, we should not have the same standards. The issue will be at the center of discussions this week as Montreal organizes the Summit on construction sites in the metropolis on March 30, where Émilie Thuillier says she wants to find “very concrete solutions” to the omnipresence of construction sites in the metropolis.
This event will bring together elected officials from across Quebec, but also companies in the construction industry, experts, large organizations and community organizations. “There are several discussions we want to have,” said Ms. Thuillier. On the occupation of the public domain, for example, we want to put an end to contractors who set up a week before their construction site, with all the signage. It’s useless, and it blocks everyone,” she says.
“We can do better without having more too”, persists the adviser, who calls for “changing the way we manage construction sites, everyone together”. “We want it, construction sites. If there are many in Montreal, it is because the economy is doing well. But you also have to hold them well. A cone costs $137 on average on the market. How come contractors let them hang around like that? We can have a way of getting them back if they don’t want them, ”insists Ms. Thuillier again.
The Plante administration says it has “documented several major irritating elements” of the work in the metropolis, in view of the Summit on the construction sites. “What we want is to come up with new and ambitious solutions. We need to renovate the city differently,” she concludes.
“We often don’t really know who is responsible for the work,” notes Catherine Morency, holder of the Mobility Chair at Polytechnique Montréal. For her, the main issue is the difficulty of having an overview of the construction sites in the metropolis. “The priority for me is to better inventory the sites. With real data, we would be able to offer better trajectory options,” she argues.
“People going around always go from point A to point B, but in between you have to think about the whole trajectory. Maybe it’s from the start that we change the route. If we backed up on this route, maybe we would see that the person can park at the metro, rather than going downtown and being picked up all over the side streets. Above all, it is necessary to open the quantity of options, ”continues Ms. Morency.
For the rest, she says, people also need to understand “that there are just too many cars in Montreal.” There are 1 million vehicles registered on the island and 2.6 million in the crowns. “Reallocating space is the main solution. Mathematically, the number of cars no longer fits into the city. We can no longer imagine that all the vehicles will be able to continue to circulate easily, especially with the number of construction sites that we have and that are coming, given the lack of maintenance of our infrastructures, ”insists the professor.
Can we think of bringing all the obstacles together in a single application, to better manage them? This is the fight of the CEO of OPA Technologies, Caroline Arnouk, who has been trying for a few years to argue with the City of Montreal that her application “could be a good solution”. His company, which has already done business with the provincial and federal governments in the Turcot interchange and Samuel-De Champlain bridge files, offers governments software that allows, in one click, to “detect situations of conflict of circulation on the territory”.
“Basically, on the software, you enter all your projects and the schedule for the sites. After that, you make a conflict detection click, and there you can prioritize the construction sites in terms of street closures. Then you enter your detours everywhere, and again you see if there are any conflicts. It’s all in real time,” Ms. Arnouk explains.
Once a project gets under way and there’s a complete shutdown, “we can send the data to Waze quickly, under a partnership we’ve signed with them.” “There, people have access to the right information at the right time in an app that is already heavily used. All of this is protected by a Canadian patent,” continues the CEO of OPA Technologies.
“It’s a solution that has been implemented, run-in, tested in several cities, so we’re ready to help Montreal,” continues the entrepreneur, who recalls that her software also makes it possible to “transfer data to entrepreneurs, so that ‘they make sure they apply for their building permit at the right time’. “It’s the same thing for the City: it then has an overall picture of the allocation of permits on its territory,” she argues on this subject.
The Plante administration should make it a priority to “manage the obstacles on our commercial streets”, estimates the director general of Vivre en ville, Christian Savard. “We’re going to do Sainte-Catherine West soon. That there are obstacles for circulation in secondary streets, it is part of the economic development of the city, but the commercial, it is there that we must become particularly exemplary. It makes a bad name in Montreal, everywhere,” he says.
In his view, the main problem lies in the management of “micro-construction sites or the end of construction sites”. “That’s where I feel more like it’s dragging on and messing up the city, with equipment and cones sitting around way too long. This is what, basically, sometimes gives the impression that the city center is the warehouse of cones. All these small projects, since they are not major, it seems that we are neglecting them, ”continues Mr. Savard on this subject.
However, he says he finds it increasingly difficult to believe in a real change of culture on this side. “I have a hard time believing it, like many. There hasn’t been a mayor or mayor who hasn’t said that in the last 10 or 15 years, but it seems no one does. If we were in a culture where we remove signage when it is not useful, where we make signage more aesthetic, we would not have the same debate at all. There, we are in a culture of “it does not matter, we will come back in three weeks”. And that, it is ultimately up to the people on the ground to change this culture, ”explains Mr. Savard.
One of the solutions could also be to hold more construction sites “24 hours a day”, suggests Sarah Bensadoun, spokesperson for the Ministry of Transport and Sustainable Mobility (MTMD). This is already the case for some major works, such as the Louis-Hippolyte-La Fontaine tunnel. A policy revised in 2019 by the Ministry also exists to oversee this type of work without interruption, already targeted by several municipal administrations, including the Plante administration, as a promising solution, when possible.
“Sometimes it’s worth paying more, but working in a much shorter time frame, especially if it means benefits for road users. The duration of the construction site is thus much shorter, we can even cut it by half in some cases, ”she argues.
The solution does not apply to “all types of construction sites”, however, recalls the spokesperson for the Ministry. “We are mainly talking about repairing or rebuilding structures, highways or interchanges, or even widening highways, or even replacing signage and lighting. It also affects all other work outside the traffic lanes,” she said.
So far, the government is only targeting three regions for its 24-hour work: the cities of Montreal, Quebec and Gatineau. “There is a whole financial aspect, but also the availability of resources, to consider. For the contractor, this implies the availability of equipment and labor on non-traditional schedules. The amounts are therefore necessarily higher, but what we are looking at is the cost compared to the benefits, ”concludes Ms. Bensadoun.
The “fundamental” problem of construction sites in the metropolis, “are the signs and residual signage lying around in the streets”, estimates the expert in transport planning at the University of Montreal Pierre Barrieau.
“A lot of times in the industry it’s a matter of nonchalance. And I think the only way we can combat that nonchalance, unfortunately, is bigger fines. This is the only concrete solution to put an end to the abuse of the public highway, ”he insists.
Mr. Barrieau proposes to the City to hold, for example, a pilot project where it would be possible to carry out “30 to 40 sites in an optimized way, with short deadlines and dedicated teams, then financial incentives”. “I am convinced that this would ensure that we optimize our construction sites, and at the same time, the problem of signs lying around. »
The other issue, continues the expert, is the fact that contractors often mark construction sites with signage “before they are even really active”. “A construction site should not be allowed to be marked more than a day in advance, and above all, it should only be marked for the duration necessary, not for the entire duration of the construction site. It would already make a big difference in the perception of being constantly caught up in construction sites, ”says Mr. Barrieau.