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Ottawa's stimulus-fuelled summer of the shovel

The spring sunshine still has me blinking with disbelief some days as Irediscover simple pleasures like bumping into friends on the streetagain, a much rarer occurrence in winter, and also simple annoyanceslike the dust, noise and traffic clotted around construction androadwork sites.

The spring sunshine still has me blinking with disbelief some days as I rediscover simple pleasures like bumping into friends on the street again, a much rarer occurrence in winter, and also simple annoyances like the dust, noise and traffic clotted around construction and roadwork sites.


If you think you’re being advised to Use Other Sidewalk a little more often than usual this spring, you’re probably right, and it’s probably only going to get worse in the summer of the shovel.


This year, Ottawa’s usual seasonal digfest is compounded by a $375.8-million stimulus spending spree on more than 100 projects in the city.


The jobs are welcome, and many of these projects desperately need doing. Ottawa’s infrastructure, like that of many Canadian cities, has been neglected for decades, and one estimate last year put repairs and replacements $1 billion in arrears.


The catch, however, is that all this construction, in order to get its full measure of federal backing, must be completed by the end of March 2011. City staff are already warning of $4.5 million or more in potential shortfalls should the deadline be missed.


The Canadian Construction Association warned its members last month to be on the lookout for clauses in stimulus contracts in which municipalities try to stick them with the bill for any delays.


For the federal government, the visibility of stimulus spending is a two-way street. All the federally-funded projects include signs touting Canada’s Action Plan, the colour scheme of which incidentally echoes the Conservatives’ party logo.


Should construction drag on, though, those green, white and blue signs could become a focus for frustration, more symbolic of disruptions imposed than improvements sponsored. With an election always possible, this is not the branding Tories want.


But the deadline pressures, while encouraging a timely end to the mess, could cause significant problems of their own. The final months before the deadline coincide with a little thing we call winter, which has a way of playing hell with everyone’s plans.


And while we all hope the tight time strictures won’t encourage the cutting of corners on construction, maybe to the detriment of public safety, common sense and human nature make it a distinct possibility.


Meanwhile, the summer will go on, in and around the caution horses and backhoes, the tour buses and the festival mobs.


We can at least take comfort that Mayor Larry O’Brien, whose condo building overlooks the $6-million road, sewer and water main replacement that has chewed up Sussex Drive from George to St. Patrick, will share our summertime blues.


Steve Collins lives, writes and walks in Ottawa; ottawaletters@metronews.ca.