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Productive construction season coming to a close

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The nights are growing long and dark and there's a cool nip in the air, which can mean only one thing: construction season in Fort Frances is coming to an end.

Town of Fort Frances Operations and Facilities manager Travis Rob has given periodic updates to town council as the season progressed, and now that it's almost over, he said it went off about as well as anyone could have hoped for, even in the midst of a pandemic.

“It was a busy season this year,” Rob said.

“We knew going in it was going to be a busy season with the grants and funding that we received for road works for the year. We had some really big projects to get through. Ultimately, Mother Nature really was looking out for us this year and helped tremendously in our construction to keep the rain storms in the evenings and things like that. People don't realize how much that impacts how fast we can get through construction, so Mother Nature played a big role in helping.”

Of the three major projects that were being done this year, Rob said that only one has work remaining before the snow sets in, with finishing touches on the other two to be complete next season.

“At this point we're down to one construction project that is, for lack of a better word, finishing up,” Rob explained.

“We're on the home stretch with the one remaining project which is Colonization Road West. On Scott Street they're just buttoning up sod. That's the last of the work to happen on that road this year. Erin Crescent has been done for about a month.”

Rob said each of the three major projects will have work left to complete next year, mostly final layers of asphalt, even as the Scott St. project saw its timeline bump up several times this summer as the crew working on it was able to finish some work faster than originally anticipated.

In addition, a project that the town was hoping to see started earlier in the year has also gotten the green light to proceed and potentially get some work in before the snow comes.

“We did receive some funding late late late in the season for King's Highway,” Rob said.

“So King's Highway from Pit Road #1 to Pit Road #2 is going to be reconstructed and widened. That job was awarded to Armstrong Construction, George Armstrong company. They are looking at starting that, depending on when they can get materials, and doing some of the off-road work this fall yet, but they can't make any impact to the roadway at this point, so that will start more in earnest next year.”

Though it might come as a surprise that anything was able to run smoothly and efficiently during a pandemic, Rob said that he was able to work with each of the contractors as COVID began to spread in order to assess the situation and make sure each company was being safe and would be able to continue working.

“As COVID kind of took over I started reaching out to the contractors that had work awarded and talking to them, given that by the provincial orders, they were still deemed to be essential workplaces,” he explained.

“We were getting their COVID policies, we were passing our COVID policies off to them so that when we were interacting with them, they knew what to expect and vice versa. So once everyone was kind of clear on what were going to be the requirements when we were dealing with each other, everything kind of started to roll quite well. To be honest, probably most of the public wouldn't even notice that there was any difference pre-COVID versus post-COVID.”

If anything, Rob noted, the biggest impact that COVID had on the season was the disruptions it caused further down the supply line for materials.

“[The contracters] had trouble getting things because they either weren't available or the person that they were dealing with maybe had been laid off or was working from home and didn't have the same capabilities in the office,” Rob explained.

“So there was lots of logistical impacts that came up with COVID, but in terms of actual productivity, they've been able to kind of overcome all that just through different scheduling of work.”

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