February 26, 2010


Work on the Hogg’s Hollow Bridge over Yonge St. on Highway 401 saw most of the lane closures required done at night to minimize congestion on Canada’s busiest section of highway.

FEATURE | Roadbuilding

Nighttime is the right time for road works in Toronto

Decades ago, the idea of construction crews working on road building projects after dark was the exception, rather than the norm. Traffic be damned, construction work took precedence over commuters.

That idea gradually changed, with contractors moving as much construction as possible to evenings and nighttime, minimizing lane closures and saving the most disruptive work to off-hours.

“All the major roadbuilding contractors now do night work,” says Will MacKenzie, an information officer with the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO). “The big companies like Bott, Miller Group, and Graham Brothers all deal in night work because that’s a pre-defined requirement of the contract. It’s not something that’s decided later on during the design phase.”

Night time construction requirements are more often centred on busy urban highways than on roads less traveled.

“It’s been that way as long as I remember,” says Rick Tamburro, VP of GTA Construction with Miller Paving Ltd. “Outside of the city, say on Highway 9, north of Toronto, you can stage a lane closure from dawn to dusk, but inside the GTA, night time lane closures are strictly covered by the contract.”

But not everybody appreciates the shift to nighttime roadwork. In early August, MTO decided to change its plans to conduct preliminary nighttime roadwork on Highway 402 approaching the Bluewater Bridge, because of residents’ concerns that the activity might contravene the City of Sarnia’s noise by-laws. MTO had earlier sought a three-year exemption from the city’s noise regulations, a request the city refused. The city’s Christina Street overpass was demolished in October requiring an estimated 12,000 cars and 3,000 trucks to be rerouted throughout the day.

The $86-million Hogg’s Hollow Highway Bridge rehabilitation project at Highway 401 and Yonge Street in Toronto is a typical MTO contract with restrictions on highway lane closures, which are largely limited to a period stretching from 8:00 pm to 6:00 am.

“The impact of delays on passenger and commercial traffic resulting from construction activities on this section of highway were an important consideration,” says Ron Klatt, Department Manager, Contract Administration Group with Morrison Hershfield Ltd., the company that designed the project. “There was initially a fair bit of nighttime closure in the collector lanes when they were replacing an outside guide rail with concrete barriers, and when they replaced the noise barrier from Hogg’s Hollow Bridge to Avenue Road, mostly in 2009. While the project is now predominantly a day time job, they bring in traffic control services at night to close lanes when they move the bulk of the construction materials and equipment into the work zone.”

Barricade Traffic Services Inc. of Concord, ON is handling traffic control on Hogg’s Hollow.

“It’s an art,” says Peter Wehmeyer, Project Manager with Barricade. “We use a two-person crew and an operator who drives a crash truck designed to protect the workers. It can be intimidating work, to be honest, but our crews have lots of training in the field. Hogg’s Hollow is a little more challenging than some projects. It has wider shoulders than the Queen Elizabeth Way, but the volume of traffic is the biggest factor.”

Ontario has no training authority for traffic control workers, so the company’s workers are trained according to the standards of the American Traffic Safety Services Association, modified for the province. Barricade follows standards and guidelines set by MTO but also relies on its own comprehensive set of policies and procedures.

However, the nuances of traffic control are learned on the job. The crews must take extra care setting up traffic control measures near curves or hills, for example. Signs and other delineators must also be carefully braced to withstand wind.

“There are different dynamics with drivers,” says Wehmeyer. “Thursday and Friday nights create an added aspect of concern and there are occasionally incidents where drivers get a lot closer to the crews or come in conflict with them. Although it might seem counter-intuitive, the most dangerous time is when the barriers are removed in the morning, not when they’re set up, as drivers return to normal speeds.”

Wehmeyer says he was once struck by a car’s mirror as the vehicle tore past an evening lane closure.

“People get comfortable driving a certain way,” he says. “Some are caught off guard by lane closures and some are merely ignorant. Dealing with them is all in a night’s work.”

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