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65,000 businesses across the country say they’ve faced hardships related to road work
By Simon Gaudreault
Published in the Financial Post May 16, 2018
Spring brings flowers, sunshine and… orange traffic cones. For most of us, road work means detours or longer commutes. But for small businesses, those budding pylons symbolize a real threat.
Customers often abandon businesses affected by road work in favour of others that are more accessible. Restaurant owners struggle with people deserting patios because of all the nearby noise and dust. Some deliveries arrive late (or not at all) because building access points are blocked. And trucking companies lose time and money due to detours and traffic jams.
An estimated 65,000 businesses across the country say they’ve faced hardships related to road work over the past five years, according to new research from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Some of them never manage to bounce back and are left with no choice but to close down. Years of work can be wiped out in just a few months of poorly planned construction projects.
Road construction is, of course, a necessary evil. We need to keep our infrastructure up to date. But local businesses drive the economy and are at the heart of our commercial thoroughfares. If they disappear, a part of the neighbourhood’s soul vanishes with them. With thousands of businesses impacted, we are faced with a serious problem that calls for real solutions.
It’s time to take action. Municipalities need to do more to mitigate the potential impact on businesses, to incentivize work crews to complete projects on time, and to address issues as they arise.
Road work needs to be better planned and executed. Businesses need to be consulted and informed well in advance of the work, so they can plan accordingly and provide valuable insights to the project design.
Construction sites frequently sit empty, without a single worker in sight for weeks. Deadlines come and go as roads remain torn up and storefronts remain unaccessible long past planned completion dates.
Improving project planning and site management would not only help businesses affected, but the public and municipalities would also come out winners as their commercial streets would remain vibrant and healthy. The revenue that flows through these businesses, and back to the municipalities via taxes, travels further and faster on paved streets than through dirty and dusty construction sites.
Efforts can’t just end at the planning stage. It’s vital to keep everybody in the loop during these projects. Having a business liaison officer actively involved with the community throughout each major infrastructure project is key. Constant face-to-face meetings with impacted businesses could help prevent situations such as water supply shutdowns with little notice.
Each of these steps could help businesses impacted by road work, at a minimal cost for municipalities.
When these measures aren’t sufficient, municipalities should compensate businesses that have sustained serious losses over an extended period of time. Some world-class cities have already done this. In Brussels, small businesses that have to close for a week or more because of public work projects are entitled to daily compensation of approximately $117. Seattle has introduced a compensation fund in excess of $15 million for businesses affected by the construction of a light rail line.
In Sydney, a group of entrepreneurs badly hit by a transit project successfully obtained compensation after more than two years of fighting. As evidence of how much of a mobilizing issue infrastructure work can be for local business owners, the group’s leader went on to found her own political party in order to advocate for small-business interests.
Montreal, a city known as much for its extensive summer road work projects as its culture and beauty, plans to provide some compensation soon for businesses impacted by infrastructure work.
Now it’s time for other municipalities to follow the city’s lead and make the wellbeing of their small businesses a priority before, during and after road-work projects.
It’s time for municipalities nationwide to show leadership and recognize the economic importance of small businesses by helping them survive the impact of infrastructure work. Small-business owners overwhelmingly support the adoption of a coherent construction mitigation plan, including compensation, by city councils.
Mayors across the country are usually proud to say they care about small business. So the question is: which cities will show leadership and actually act on those good intentions?
Spring is back, and thousands of Canadian businesses need an answer to that question right now.
Simon Gaudreault is director of economic affairs at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.