Construction groups are bracing for a dip in business as Ottawa primps for Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations next year.
City staff said last week that this summer’s downtown construction season will be busier than usual in an effort to reduce the amount of roadwork underway when millions of tourists descend upon the capital for the year-long birthday party in 2017.
“The city has strategically scheduled work so it is minimized in 2017,” transportation committee chairman Keith Egli told staff and media.
While that’s good news this year, next summer could be tough, said National Capital Heavy Construction Association spokesperson Dale Harley.
“With a quieter 2017 and a less robust investment program in federal infrastructure funding, it does give the industry a little cause for concern,” Harley said.
City staff have told him 2017 investments will simply shift to suburban and rural areas, where tourism isn’t as prominent. But Harley isn’t convinced.
“When you take a look at the forecast, we do see a bit of a dip,” he said.
The city and the federal governments, while making record investments in infrastructure, are focusing more on public transit than roads, Harley said.
Even the city’s recent road investments – notably the $340 million Ottawa on the Move program – offered a temporary boost to the construction industry, but no long-term security, Harley said.
“What it did was just take future funding commitments and move them into the present,” Harley said. “What you’re doing is digging a hole for the future, and we were hoping that would be backfilled by federal dollars and increased recognition that not all spending has to be on light rail.”
The city’s projected budget for road renewal, growth and integrated infrastructure projects is actually about $5.5 million higher in 2017 than 2016: $173.8 million versus $168.3 million.
But this year’s construction push isn’t limited to downtown roads.
Several legacy projects are also scheduled to finish before or during early 2017: the Rideau Centre expansion will wrap up this summer, the NAC facelift will be done “sometime in 2017,” and the city’s Arts Court redevelopment should open its doors in early 2017, as well.
The goal is to showcase a “quiet, clean city” during what the city has dubbed “Ottawa’s big year,” according to transportation committee chairman Keith Egli.