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Keeping an eye on utility cuts a high priority, city says: The Fixer


It looks as if contractors aren’t held to account for substandard utility cut patches, but the city says its enforcement has gotten better in recent years.

Tell that to the people who trip over a poorly patched cut and sustain serious injuries that the city often doesn’t know about because the accidents seldom are reported.

Last Saturday we wrote about a badly mended utility cut on Woburn Ave. that a woman tripped over, smashing her face and breaking her arm. The city says that stretch of sidewalk is scheduled for permanent repairs in 2017.

Our column prompted a note from Elizabeth Derbecker, who said her 74-year-old mother tripped over a shallow trench on Highbourne Rd. two weeks ago and paid a painful price.

“My mother caught her toe in the trench and went down like a felled tree, bouncing her head off a car bumper before she hit the asphalt,” she said.

“She has separated ribs, cuts and bruises and a lump on her head from this encounter with the utility cut. We are very lucky that her injuries were not worse and that there were people around to help.”

The people who trip over cuts with substandard patches are often elderly and usually don’t make a fuss about their injuries to the city, which conveniently allows it to underestimate the danger and consequences.

We raised that issue with Kyp Perikleous, director of transportation services in the Toronto-East York district, who insists the city has gotten a lot better at responding to problems with utility cuts in recent years.

Between utility-cut patrollers and examiners, and reports from citizens to 311, the city is able to respond and fix bad temporary patches much more quickly than half a dozen years ago, he said.

“The more eyes the better, and with 311, the public plays a much bigger as the eyes and ears of the city.”

The city issues about 55,000 utility permits annually, about 22,000 of which are for cuts, said Perikleous. Each cut permit can be for as few as one cut, or possibly dozens, he said, adding that federal legislation gives utilities as-of-right access to the area beneath roads and sidewalks.

The city’s prescribed standard requires “asphalt capping that has to be flush with the surrounding surface, with no tripping hazards,” he explained.

Ideally, the temporary patch is permanently repaired within 18 months to two years. But the lag time can sometimes stretch to upwards of three years, if there are longer term plans to resurface a road or rebuild a sidewalk, he said.

The city typically tenders a contract to permanently repair all cuts in a given geographic area, said Perikleous, and bills the cost to utilities responsible for the digging.

Meanwhile, utility-cut patrollers keep watch over patches to make sure they comply with standards, but rely on reports from the public to 311 to get to others that may have escaped their attention, he said.

The city is working on reducing the lag time between temporary and permanent patching, he said. A pilot project (with encouraging results) let utility contractors permanently patch their own cuts, instead of the city tendering them.

But for it to work, Perikleous acknowledged that the contractors will need to be closely monitored for compliance.

As far as we’re concerned, they’ll need to be watched like foxes in a henhouse.

We’ll have another column soon about taking legal action against the city for injuries suffered by tripping over a bad cut.

What’s broken in your neighbourhood? Wherever you are in Greater Toronto, we want to know. Send an email to jlakey@thestar.ca . Report problems and follow us on Twitter @TOStarFixer.

TORONTO STAR | YOURTORONTO

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