Getting past dirt and dust during critical transit development – How Metrolinx will tackle future GO Expansion projects in your neighbourhood

While preparing to deliver the largest transit expansion project in Canadian history, Metrolinx is offering up ways to manage the impact of construction on Ontario communities. Here, we dig into details that will – while sometimes still messy – lead to improved transit. 

Remember when you got a new stove, and what you found behind the old one when you pulled it out?

Or how about the time you decided to change a bathroom faucet and ended up pretty much gutting the entire thing.

Renovation and upgrading projects can get messy before they get a whole lot better.

So imagine that you’re tackling the biggest transit expansion in the nation’s history. Yes, dust flies and muck builds up.

Metrolinx is creating a detailed control and mitigation plan into the GO Expansion contract and working with companies to manage its effects and ensure safety around construction sites as well as adjacent communities.

Here, we’re breaking down what’s going into developing that plan.

In an ideal world, it would be great to just airlift ready-made projects into place and save everybody the muck and headache. But delivering some of the massive infrastructure that will make up GO Expansion, such as grade separations, long stretches of new track, and rail storage and maintenance facilities, requires a lot of work across the GO network. It also requires material storage, construction staging, and laydown areas that will be active over an extended period of time.

Most of the work to come will take place inside the confined rail corridors and some of it will also happen adjacent to neighbouring communities, as well as community connections like roads and rail crossings. And to top it off, most of it will have to be planned around busy train schedules.

Images hows material at a staging point.

What’s a ‘laydown area’? They are where construction equipment, materials, and other supplies will be stored and where many smaller components of larger projects will be pre-assembled. These areas will typically be located near or adjacent to the construction sites for easy access. (Metrolinx photo)

Since your grandfather’s old saying “a good plan is success half-done” holds true for pretty much everything related to construction, Metrolinx is planning ways to minimize the impacts of the GO Expansion program on the surrounding areas.

Metrolinx always does its best to be a good neighbour, but with a build as expansive and complex as GO Expansion, it’s important to have a uniform approach founded on past experiences.

Much of the next phase of GO Expansion construction will be done by whoever is the winning bidder of the GO Expansion On-Corridor Procurement, which is currently in market at the RFP, or request for proposals stage of the bidding process. Metrolinx will set out defined noise and short-term pollutant exposure limits and make sure the winning bidder develops a comprehensive construction management strategy to stay within them.

These requirements will be included in the project agreements between Metrolinx and the winning bidder that will govern the construction process. This will result in the adoption of a comprehensive list of good industry practices to forecast, monitor, control, report on, and mitigate construction impacts.

The level of detail and focus on pro-active planning from this approach really takes it to the next level compared to past construction contracts.

Matt Clark, Metrolinx’s chief capital officer, knows the importance of doing everything possible to be mindful of how projects affect their surroundings.

“I am a firm believer that a good contractor doesn’t just deliver projects on schedule and within budget, but also does the work the right way,” Matt said. “And to me, a big part of that means proper preparation and using best practices that will help minimize environmental risks and limit the effects on communities and natural areas.”

Image shows a gated entrance to a construction area.

A clean entrance into a material storage area with clear signage and fencing with protective meshing. (Metrolinx photo)

Metrolinx will first review all future storage, staging and construction sites and identify potentially sensitive locations in those areas, including residences, hospitals, schools, and possible wildlife habitats that may require protection from construction activities.

Then, Metrolinx will work with the winning consortium to determine the best haul routes, site entrances and exits as well as layouts for each site. The consortium’s contractors will then be required to make every effort to follow strict construction and material handling and transfer methods to minimize vibration and air quality impacts for these adjacent sensitive locations.

In the past, our contractors monitored vibration caused by construction only to assess possible liability for physical damage to structures. The intent of monitoring going forward will be made into a requirement to also protect human well-being. This is very different than the way it used to be done.

It’s a long list, but these methods will include:

  • Adhering to a comprehensive noise and vibration and air pollution exposure limit.
  • Minimizing road traffic congestion by reducing the duration of traffic interference with higher production rates and off-site fabrication.
  • Installing fencing, curtains, shrouds and signage to ensure all construction activities are confined to the designated areas and the public is protected.
  • Using enclosures, coverings, wind screens or existing vegetation to shield materials from wind or apply chemical stabilizers or water to the surface area of material storage piles.
  • Applying water to soil not more than 15 minutes prior to moving it and using stabilizing materials while loading, transporting, and unloading.
  • Minimizing material handling operations, particularly under windy conditions.
  • Applying water and dust extraction techniques to minimize dust from cutting, grinding and drilling.
  • Using pre-mixed, pre-cast and prefabricated materials and components, where possible.
  • Vacuuming and watering work site and access roads frequently
  • Stabilizing all off-road traffic and parking areas as well as haul routes.
  • Applying and maintaining surface improvements to unpaved roads and paving access roads, where possible.
Image looks down at a construction site.

Paving haul routes within a storage area helps control how much mud and dust leaves the site. (Metrolinx photo)

  • Directing construction traffic over established haul routes, where possible.
  • Using track-out control devices, such as shaker plates, at the intersection of unpaved access roads and paved roads and removing any collected dirt or mud from vehicle and equipment wheels.
  • Minimizing the use of diesel and gasoline powered equipment and where possible use electricity powered equipment.
  • Where possible, pre-certifying equipment with respect to their compliance with noise and pollutant emission and maintaining all equipment and its emission control systems to manufacturer’s specifications.
  • Limiting idling of equipment and vehicle engines, where possible.

Each construction, storage and laydown site will be selected and managed on a case-by-case basis, including continuous and real-time noise, vibration and air quality exposure monitoring.

Metrolinx will review and approve the action plan for each site and regularly monitor its activities with the help of full-time, professional air quality management experts until the site is no longer required. At that point the land will be returned to its pre-construction state.

These are just some of the methods that will help manage the impact of construction related dust, noise and light emissions and ensure safety of vehicular traffic, pedestrians and cycling connections during GO Expansion.

Establishing noise and air pollutant exposure limits, stricter equipment noise emission limits, noise and air quality monitoring requirements, detailed guidelines on the preparation of air quality and noise and vibration management plans and explicit listing of best practices are all part of Metrolinx’s enhanced approach to construction. Big projects create some dusty and dirty environments – just think back on what you found behind that old stove – but Metrolinx is working to put some order amid the clutter.

For more information on the GO Expansion program, please click here.

For more information on the public consultation for the GO Expansion program, please visit metrolinxengage.com.

Story by Robert Pasiak, Metrolinx senior advisor, Communications and Community Relations.