Crane Trouble in Toronto Continues

In recent months, relations between the crane industry and the city of Toronto have become strained, as city officials have begun cracking down on allowing cranes weighing more than 70 tons to travel over bridges within the city limits. City officials and engineers fear that Toronto's aging infrastructure will be damaged. Three weeks after several construction projects in Toronto came to a halt due to this dispute, the future is still uncertain for large, mobile construction cranes there.

Construction advocates are anticipating major negative impacts on construction and maintenance activities citywide if the crane travel waivers are not extended beyond April 1, said Vello Medri, labor relations manager for the Crane Rental Association of Ontario.

A temporary resolution was reached in early March at a meeting between crane labor advocates and Toronto officials, including the general manager of transportation. At that meeting, crane operators were given a 30-day waiver to continue working in Toronto. This waiver affected all disputed cranes • those in violation of the city's 70-ton limit to travel over bridges.

That limit was set 15 years ago, when Toronto started requiring daily trip permits and police escorts for cranes over the weight limit, despite the fact that those cranes had already met provincial limits and their owners held annual permits. Shortly after that limit was set, crane advocates met with city officials. At that time, Toronto city officials agreed to ignore the requirement and allowed cranes to operate under their annual permits, Medri said.

But in January 2007, Toronto police started ticketing crane operators whose cranes were over the limits and didn't have a police escort. With enough tickets, some operators are in danger of losing their licenses. On Feb. 6, crane advocates held an emergency meeting with city officials, during which Medri says the city agreed to stop ticketing and again ignore the requirements • but that hasn't happened.

On behalf of the Crane Rental Association of Ontario, last week Medri sent several emails to Toronto mayor David Miller to try and get him to step in. After no response, Medri appealed on behalf of the CRAO to the Toronto Construction Association, the Ontario Building Trades Council and the Ontario Council of the Labourers Union of North America for political support.

“That's what put the pressure on for the March 2 meeting,” Medri said.

Even with the 30-day waivers issued at the March 2 meeting, problems seem to be coming to a head soon in Toronto. On March 31, 2007, current annual permits for crane operators will expire. Will the city refuse to issue new permits to cranes over the weight limit? Medri says that would severely handicap Toronto's ability to finish its construction projects and start new ones. Clearly, large mobile cranes are necessary for several building projects each year in major cities, especially cities as large as Toronto, Canada's most-populated city.

For now, crane operators are holding on with their 30-day waivers. Whether or not those waivers are reinstated will determine Toronto's ability in the future to efficiently complete construction projects.

As quoted in the Daily Commercial News & Construction Record, Toronto General Manager of Transportation Gary Welsh said: “The cranes are getting bigger. And we've very concerned about the long-term damage to bridges and pedestrian tunnels, especially downtown. We've been doing additional inspections, and we think the situation is unsafe. We're surprised some of the other municipalities aren't doing something about this, too.”

Medri said he and other crane industry representatives have asked for copies of the city's analysis that suggests cranes are damaging to its infrastructure.

“They said we couldn't have it,” he added.