Roadwork is a necessary part of investing in our infrastructure.
It’s an inconvenience for commuters and travelers, but it can have big implications for the local business community. Providing adequate notice, communication, and consultation are key to minimizing community impact and business disruption.
Most road closures and traffic restrictions are conducted by municipal or provincial governments, which have strict rules around providing notice to neighbouring residents and business, federal projects have few rules and what’s in place is largely inadequate.
For this reason, Peterborough and the Kawarthas Chamber of Commerce has a policy resolution before the Canadian Chamber of Commerce titled Increasing Public Notice and Consultations for Federal Projects. This resolution will go to the CCC members at the annual general meeting in October and, if approved, will become part of the national advocacy effort for the next three years.
Whether it’s for a few hours, days, or even years, these projects have big implications for neighbouring residents and businesses.
For projects that disrupt traffic for a few hours or days, having adequate notice allows businesses to reschedule staff, adjust their advertising and marketing, and alter their sales programs. This can save thousands of dollars per day by facilitating prudent spending.
Projects that require significant traffic disruptions for months or years can cause major issues for affected businesses to the point that some will end up closing for good. Proper planning and communication can help businesses manage things like buying the appropriate amount of inventory, maintaining adequate staffing, and sourcing other opportunities to reach their customers.
Regardless of the length of the street closure, providing the public with ample notice allows them to better understand what is happening and plan their visits to local businesses accordingly.
Most construction projects require extensive consultation with local municipalities to provide detour options and provide appropriate notice to the public well ahead of any work being done.
However, federally administered and/or regulated projects don’t have those same requirements and often minimal communication and consultation are provided to neighbouring residents, businesses, and municipalities. Businesses in Peterborough have experienced multi-day closures of busy streets with less than 24 hours notice for rail crossing work. Businesses and residents were provided one month notice and minimal municipal consultation for the replacement of a bridge by Parks Canada on one of the main routes into the City of Peterborough that took nine months to complete.
Transport Canada requires railway work to follow the Notice of Railway Works Regulations, but that only requires notice to a limited group, including the municipality and property owners immediately abutting land at the crossing. While it does require 60 days notice, obligations to the neighbouring community are limited and there are no requirements to provide detours.
All non-rail projects aren’t regulated by Transport Canada since they are deemed a business practice. The various government ministries, departments and services are left to establish their own standards, which have proven difficult to access.
There are times when work must be done on an immediate basis with minimal prior notice due to emergencies, but most projects involve months, if not years, of planning to budget, tender, and schedule infrastructure work.
Our recommendations are that the government of Canada:
1. Require federal agencies and federally regulated sectors to communicate publicly the intention to undertake upcoming construction projects that impact transportation routes as early on in the planning process as is practical
2. Require federal agencies and federally regulated sectors to provide notice that includes all nearby residents and businesses, not just those immediately adjacent to the project:
a) a minimum of 30 days notice for road closures that are seven days or less
b) a minimum of 90 days notice for road closures expected to last more than seven days
3. Require federal agencies and federally regulated sectors to thoroughly consult with municipalities and contribute resources toward detour options
Improving communication and consultation will go a long way to helping local businesses and reducing frustration for everyone involved. Scheduled infrastructure improvements that involve closing streets should provide at least as much notice as what is expected when organizing a parade.