Behind Orange Traffic Cones: Construction in Montréal

Photo credit to Steven Faguy.

A commute through Montreal is never complete without seeing one of those bright orange traffic cones. Closed sidewalks, blocked roads, crumbling potholes, and loud drilling are just some of the inconveniences due to the seemingly never-ending construction projects throughout the city. Not only are these projects poorly planned, underemployed, and underfunded, but behind the scenes, contract-rigging has made annoyance from citywide construction even more widespread.

“Large projects are getting their required funding, therefore tightening budget constraints for small and maintenance projects, decreasing workforce size and efficiency and lengthening required deadlines”

Rush hour is inevitable where there is construction. Shift times seem to change at the same time as traffic begins to build up, requiring police and construction workers to direct discontinuous traffic flow through congested lanes. These standstills lead to decreased productivity and lateness,  yet when there is low traffic at night, many construction crews are not working, as the “industry is working at full capacity” according to the Association de la Construction du Québec (ACQ), and does not have enough workers to cover shifts. The ACQ projects that roughly 20,000 more workers are needed to meet project demand over the next decade. Yet, as project demand continues to increase, so does Quebec’s infrastructure budget deficit, having increased from $11.8 billion in 2015 to $16.4 billion today. Large projects are getting their required funding, but they are tightening budget constraints for small and maintenance projects, decreasing workforce size and efficiency, and lengthening required deadlines. How contracts are chosen to be funded, however, has been exposed as an unfair process in Montreal. 

“These contracts were rigged to increase bid prices, providing major profits for companies, and then would then they would be delayed or cancelled, creating advantages for individuals at the expense of Montreal’s citizens.”

This September, a $26M lawsuit was filed against Frank Zampino, the former second-in-command at Montreal City Hall, and construction tycoon Tony Accurso. Documents indicate that Zampino would reward Accurso and his businesses with city construction contracts in exchange for political and other favours. These contracts were rigged to increase bid prices providing major profits for Accurso’s companies, and then would be delayed or cancelled, creating advantages for individuals at the expense of Montreal’s citizens. Zampino has also been sued in other city based cases, such as a $14M suit for a cancelled water meter contract. Engineering consulting firms were also accused of being involved in the collusion and contract-rigging scandal. A judge has currently stayed proceedings against Zampino for potentially illegal wire-tap recordings used against him as evidence, yet the Crown is looking to appeal this decision and proceed further with the trial.

The Charbonneau Commision, a public inquiry into the awarding process for construction contracts in Quebec, has claimed that allegedly corrupt firms have since been flushed from the system, and that the province now needs to effectively plan how to proceed with new and upcoming projects. A promising development in Montreal is the planned construction of Montreal’s largest luxury condo tower and complex, Maestria. The environmentally responsible project will feature two towers of approximately 60 stories each connected with a skybridge and overlooking the Quartier des Spectacles. In addition, there will be restaurants and retail spaces open to the entire Montreal community. As the housing market in Montreal continues to boom, perhaps this stunning project can lead the way to fair and thoroughly-planned construction in the future.

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