Councillor Josh Matlow

Toronto Star: Drivers stymied by complex water main project on Avenue Road

The intersection of Avenue Rd. and Heath St. during a construction period on April 22, 2011. The lane restrictions are due to construction to replace a 100-year-old water main between Dupont and Lawrence Ave. W.

VINCE TALOTTA/TORONTO STAR Brendan Kennedy Staff Reporter

The ominous orange warnings appear before any sign of construction, and three words stand above all others:




Driving north on Avenue Rd. in one of three lanes approaching Dupont St., you may look at a line of cars to the left and to the right and wonder how everyone will fit through the pipe, so to speak.

“I’ve had a long time to think about it, stuck on Avenue Rd. myself,” says Councillor Josh Matlow (St. Paul’s), who represents the southern half of the area under construction. “It’s been an incredibly difficult experience for residents of my ward.”

The lane restrictions are due to construction to replace a 100-year-old water main between Dupont and Lawrence Ave. W. Drivers are strained to a slow drip to ensure water will flow freely from our taps.

The two-year, $60 million project is one of Toronto Water’s largest and most complex. Crews are laying 5.4 kilometres of pipe under the roadway, some as deep as 15 metres. Roughly half the water main will be installed in tunnels, the rest in open shafts, called trenches.

Construction started last June and is scheduled to be complete by late 2012.

The project has already faced its first hurdle: the discovery of groundwater in at least two places has complicated and slowed digging. But all parties insist the work remains on schedule.

Your commute, however, that’s another story.

At morning and afternoon rush hours, frustrated drivers zigzag through neighbourhood side streets, trying to circumvent the gridlock. This in turn annoys residents unaccustomed to having their leafy enclaves turned into east-west arterials.

Commuters call their councillor demanding rush-hour turn restrictions on Avenue be lifted; residents demand that more be added.

But who’s shouldering the burden of spillover traffic?

The city doesn’t have the resources to measure how other roadways are affected by construction projects, said Ron Hamilton, manager of traffic operations. “But we generally understand through experience that it will typically relocate to the nearest adjacent arterial roadway that travels in that same direction.”

Which means motorists from Avenue will be doing what they can to get over to Yonge and Bathurst Sts., and to a lesser extent, Spadina Ave. But how do they get there?

Despite the demands to temporarily ease turning restrictions on Avenue to relieve congestion — which would create other problems, Hamilton said — the city decided instead to modify traffic signal times to keep traffic flowing.

They added about 10 seconds to green lights for north-south traffic at a number of intersections on Avenue, Yonge, Spadina and Bathurst, Hamilton said. “Generally (10 seconds) is about the best we can seem to do most times.”

That’s because messing with signal times can become a tricky balancing act: you can’t add time to one direction without taking away from another. Minimum pedestrian crossing times also limit how much tweaking you can do.

Matlow says he hears weekly from residents complaining about increased traffic in their neighbourhoods, with most coming from people on Heath St. and Kilbarry Rd.

But traffic infiltration, both east and west of Avenue and north of St. Clair, has been a contentious issue for a number of years in the area, and many residents say it’s no worse because of the construction.

“I wouldn’t make a causal link between the water main construction on Avenue Rd. and traffic conditions on Kilbarry,” said Howard Barton, who has lived on the street for 21 years. “From my observation it’s no worse than it was — but that’s not to say it wasn’t bad before.”

City staff hope to have Avenue Rd. completely reopened to Kilbarry — except for a block between Balmoral Ave. and St. Clair where workers have been stymied by groundwater — at least by the end of May, said Henry Polvi, one of the lead engineers on the project.

The entire roadway should be open to Eglinton Ave. — except for a section of Chaplin Cres. between Oriole Parkway and Avenue (again due to groundwater) — by the end of the summer.

For more information on the Avenue Rd. water main replacement, contact senior public consultation coordinator Maogosha Pyjor at 416-338-2850 or

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