Thursday, January 28, 2010

Guelph Getting Remastered, But Not Without Difficulty

“It’ll be worth it.” That’s what the City of Guelph wants you to think this summer as you struggle to navigate through a minefield of road work that’s going to make last summer’s construction look like a simple road patch job. Hyperbole? Not quite. At a media briefing about the coming construction season last Wednesday, Chief Administrative Officer Hans Loewig said that 2010 will see four-times more road construction than 2009. Or to put it another way, that's five years worth of construction crammed into one calendar year. In all, 25 projects have already or will go under the shovel thanks to $48 million in stimulus from the Federal and Provincial governments, with another $24 million from the city. And all 25 of these projects have to be finished by March 2011.

In some opening remarks, Mayor Karen Farbridge said that Guelph did extremely well in getting stimulus money from upper levels of government and that “sometimes you’re a victim of your own success.” Meaning that now the city has to get down to work at doing $72 million worth of construction in 12 months, which will mean a lot of inconvenience and, potentially, a lot of anger from inconvenienced citizens. Knowing this though, Farbridge said that Guelph was “very fortunate” to be getting this funding saying that “a lot of our infrastructure is at the end of its life span.”

That goes especially for areas of the city that are oldest, like the downtown core, where some sewers and watermains are nearly a century old. Additionally, many cities are behind in the infrastructure construction. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities estimates that there’s a $123 billion deficit in infrastructure nationwide.

So there’s going to be a lot of construction between March and December, but the city wants to make residents and businesses an informed partner in the endeavour and not a hapless victim. “We want to make sure that this is a partnership throughout the community,” said Loewig, “they are stakeholders in the process.”

It begins this week with an information insert will be sent out to Guelph homes via the Mercury and the Tribune newspapers. That will be followed up with regular print, radio and web updates as the city will try to keep citizens informed about changes through local media. Once construction starts there will be rush hour updates on local radio stations CJOY and MAGIC while the City's website will be the main hub for updated information. Along with getting information, people will be able to report a construction problem or submit a question, while affected businesses will be invited to regular meetings to promote information sharing and to get updates. “We’re going to do everything possible to avoid disruption but it’s going to look like we’re not,” resigned Loewig.

So where is it going to be hardest hit in terms of construction? It seems that Carden Street is going to be the focal point as improvements are made in preparation for the possible transit hub to be developed there with the arrival of GO trains next year. The Wyndham St bridge will also be improved necessitating further disruption there come spring. As well the corner of Wilson and Carden will feel the “most impact” according to Loewig, even necessitating the short term use of the civic square as a parking lot. Considering all this, city officials say that the goal of their public relations effort will be to keep things light while still being informational. All the construction in the coming months may represent a short term inconvenience, but these improvements will make Guelph better in the long term. In other words: no pain, no gain.

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