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Revitalizing Toronto’s waterfront roads

Multiple contractors working on multiple services in lakefront fill make the Queens Quay construction project a challenge

Revitalizing Toronto’s waterfront roads

Downtown Toronto benefits greatly from the natural beauty of Lake Ontario providing it with a stunning waterfront that attracts tourists and local residents on a daily basis. Combining traffic, transit, tourists and other factors in an area that was designed and developed many years ago has caused a call for revitalization along parts of the city’s waterfront.

One area in particular that is in the process of being updated combines everything from electric distribution to streetcar right of way and busy weekend visitor traffic to boot. With the PanAm Games schedulled for 2015, there is little room for error as the city works to revitalize the waterfront street known as Queens Quay.

Built on reclaimed land in the early 20th Century, Queens Quay has been targeted for revitalization numerous times as the area it passes through has changed from industrial to residential. Businesses and condominium towers now make up large portions of the area surrounding the street. Continued development has increased the traffic flow along the waterfront, resulting in a need to improve the street and services beneath it.

“There is very little pedestrian space south of the street - it’s right up against the edge of the water,” said David Kusturin, chief operating officer of Waterfront Toronto. “In some cases there is less than five feet of space from the roadway to the water. It’s quite a public attraction down here on the waterfront, so with the thousands of people that could be here for weekends and special events it really isn't all that safe.”

Along with safety concerns was the need to update the Toronto Transit Commission’s (TTC) streetcar line that has for years run between the two eastbound and two westbound lanes of Queens Quay.

“The TTC right of way had reached the end of its useful life; it was built about 25 years ago, and many parts needed to be rebuilt,” Kusturin said. “We took the opportunity to rebuild the entire street and rebuild the right of way as well.”

While Queens Quay will be redeveloped along two kilometres of waterfront when completed - at an overall cost of approximately $110 million work is currently ongoing on phase 1 stretching from Bay Street west to Spadina Avenue. The project is quite a change for the area, Kusturin said.

“The revised street will include two directional two-way streets north of the streetcar right of way, one lane eastbound and westbound with turning lanes and laybys where required. That will make it a more efficient street,” he said. “South of the new right of way is a broad tree-lined promenade with an extension of the Martin Goodman trail, a purpose-built bike and pedestrian trail.”

At the same time as the surface facilities are being modernized, Waterfront Toronto has taken the opportunity to modernize the below-ground facilities as well.

“All the services were reaching the end of their useful life. We are replacing the sanitary sewer and upsizing it along the length of the street, we’re redoing the stormwater system, and replacing water mains in various locations,” Kusturin said. “Bell Canada, Rogers and other telcos are taking the opportunity to rebuild their services, and Toronto Hydro is also putting in a brand new distribution system the length of the street.”

Original plans were for an organized, orderly flow of construction among those many underground services. That didn't last long. “We wanted to work from east to west and do one utility at a time, so the storm sewer would go in first, being the deepest utility, followed by the sanitary sewer, then Hydro, then the TTC duct banks,” Kusturin explained. “Hydro was supposed to have completed replacing their distribution system by the time we started, and our design was based on the existing infrastructure being decommissioned so a number of our services ran in the same right of way as Hydro did. But, because Hydro wasn't able to commence their project before we did, we’re kind of working hand in hand with them.”

That has resulted in a challenging effort to install the other services without knocking out existing Hydro infrastructure requiring ongoing redesign as the project moves forward.

“Almost everywhere, we run into existing infrastructure that hasn't been decommissioned and because it’s live and feeding buildings, it can’t be decommissioned,” Kusturin said. “So we’re redesigning our services in, around, over and under that infrastructure. We have to figure out how to redesign the systems going in, which does cause some delay in the process. Because Hydro is working all along the site with us, we have trades along the whole kilometre and a half of the site.”

The location along Lake Ontario certainly isn't helping efforts either. Much of the area Queens Quay travels across is lake fill, which comes with its own problems.

“There are many great unknowns and conflicts in the form of old dock walls, wharves, old utilities that aren't on any as-built drawings… there are even new utilities that aren't on as-built drawings,”

Images courtesy of Waterfront Toronto

Downtown Toronto benefits greatly from the natural beauty of Lake Ontario providing it with a stunning waterfront that attracts tourists and local residents on a daily basis. Combining traffic, transit, tourists and other factors in an area that was designed and developed many years ago has caused a call for revitalization along parts of the city’s waterfront.

One area in particular that is in the process of being updated combines everything from electric distribution to streetcar right of way and busy weekend visitor traffic to boot. With the PanAm Games schedulled for 2015, there is little room for error as the city works to revitalize the waterfront street known as Queens Quay.

Built on reclaimed land in the early 20th Century, Queens Quay has been targeted for revitalization numerous times as the area it passes through has changed from industrial to residential. Businesses and condominium towers now make up large portions of the area surrounding the street. Continued development has increased the traffic flow along the waterfront, resulting in a need to improve the street and services beneath it.

“There is very little pedestrian space south of the street - it’s right up against the edge of the water,” said David Kusturin, chief operating officer of Waterfront Toronto. “In some cases there is less than five feet of space from the roadway to the water. It’s quite a public attraction down here on the waterfront, so with the thousands of people that could be here for weekends and special events it really isn't all that safe.”

Along with safety concerns was the need to update the Toronto Transit Commission’s (TTC) streetcar line that has for years run between the two eastbound and two westbound lanes of Queens Quay.

“The TTC right of way had reached the end of its useful life; it was built about 25 years ago, and many parts needed to be rebuilt,” Kusturin said. “We took the opportunity to rebuild the entire street and rebuild the right of way as well.”

While Queens Quay will be redeveloped along two kilometres of waterfront when completed - at an overall cost of approximately $110 million work is currently ongoing on phase 1 stretching from Bay Street west to Spadina Avenue. The project is quite a change for the area, Kusturin said.

“The revised street will include two directional two-way streets north of the streetcar right of way, one lane eastbound and westbound with turning lanes and laybys where required. That will make it a more efficient street,” he said. “South of the new right of way is a broad tree-lined promenade with an extension of the Martin Goodman trail, a purpose-built bike and pedestrian trail.”

At the same time as the surface facilities are being modernized, Waterfront Toronto has taken the opportunity to modernize the below-ground facilities as well.

“All the services were reaching the end of their useful life. We are replacing the sanitary sewer and upsizing it along the length of the street, we’re redoing the stormwater system, and replacing water mains in various locations,” Kusturin said. “Bell Canada, Rogers and other telcos are taking the opportunity to rebuild their services, and Toronto Hydro is also putting in a brand new distribution system the length of the street.”

Original plans were for an organized, orderly flow of construction among those many underground services. That didn't last long. “We wanted to work from east to west and do one utility at a time, so the storm sewer would go in first, being the deepest utility, followed by the sanitary sewer, then Hydro, then the TTC duct banks,” Kusturin explained. “Hydro was supposed to have completed replacing their distribution system by the time we started, and our design was based on the existing infrastructure being decommissioned so a number of our services ran in the same right of way as Hydro did. But, because Hydro wasn't able to commence their project before we did, we’re kind of working hand in hand with them.”

That has resulted in a challenging effort to install the other services without knocking out existing Hydro infrastructure requiring ongoing redesign as the project moves forward.

“Almost everywhere, we run into existing infrastructure that hasn't been decommissioned and because it’s live and feeding buildings, it can’t be decommissioned,” Kusturin said. “So we’re redesigning our services in, around, over and under that infrastructure. We have to figure out how to redesign the systems going in, which does cause some delay in the process. Because Hydro is working all along the site with us, we have trades along the whole kilometre and a half of the site.”

The location along Lake Ontario certainly isn't helping efforts either. Much of the area Queens Quay travels across is lake fill, which comes with its own problems.

“There are many great unknowns and conflicts in the form of old dock walls, wharves, old utilities that aren't on any as-built drawings… there are even new utilities that aren't on as-built drawings,”

The Queens Quay revitalization project includes replacing and upsizing the sanitary sewers, redoing the stormwater system, replacing water mains in various locations, and rebuilding telecom services. Toronto Hydro is also putting in a brand new distribution system.

With that many services to be replaced, it’s no surprise that there are numerous subcontractors involved. Varcon Construction is handling the municipal services such as storm sewer, water mains, fire hydrants and others. Stacey Electric is installing the new TTC underground electrical services, while Powerline Plus is handling the Toronto Hydro work.

Eastern Construction is the construction manager for the project, overseeing coordination of the various aspects of the project, Kusturin said.

Kusturin said. Being within feet of Lake Ontario adds yet another complication - water. Lots of water.

“Lake level here is about 1.5 metres down, but we have some very deep services, down to four or five metres,” Kusturin said. “Once you dig down it’s like an open conduit from the lake to the excavation. It’s not possible to dewater Lake Ontario.”

Atlas Dewatering is tasked with keeping the excavation relatively dry, using wellpoint systems and other techniques.

“In some cases we've had to move utilities east or west to get them out of the zone of influence of the lake; in other areas we've run into old box services to the lake, which provide a route for lake water to get into the excavation,” he noted.

“We've had to use injection grouting where the fill isn't homogeneous enough to prevent water infiltration, and in other areas we've used sheet piling and created coffer dam style solutions that allow us to do the work we need to.”

Drying the holes enough for proper backfilling and compaction is essential to avoid sinkholes and damage to services in the future, Kusturin said.

With the PanAm Games coming to Toronto in 2015, it’s essential that the Queens Quay project remain on time. With proper coordination and effective methods to move construction forward, Kusturin sees no reason for there to be any problems with the project deadlines.

“Because we’re working across the site now, we’re aiming to keep that original schedule so that when there are thousands and thousands of visitors to Toronto for the games it’s not a construction site,” he said. “Our whole mitigation project has been set around that goal: getting this project done.”

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