OTTAWA -- While Parliament Hill has spent weeks preparing for tens of thousands of visitors to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday, the surrounding streets will look a little less ready for company.

Construction on the city's long-awaited light rail transit project is behind schedule, with gaping holes and boarded up fences remaining at key intersections a block or two from the centre of the sesquicentennial celebrations.

Nearby Sparks Street has several buildings under construction, with the pedestrian mall's walkway narrowed at points because of it.

And road closures earlier in the week frustrated residents, who dealt with longer-than-normal commutes by car and by bus as traffic adapted to shut-downs for security preparations.

The original plan was for light rail construction near Parliament Hill to be done, with the roads repaved in time for July 1. But the June, 2016 sinkhole on Rideau Street, about two blocks from the Hill, set back that plan by several months.

"RTG [Rideau Transit Group, the light-rail contractor] was on track to achieve that goal," Steve Cripps, the city's director of O-Train Construction, told in an interview.

"Unfortunately a lot of the construction sites will still be here on Canada Day."

Despite adding equipment and crews to get back on track, Cripps says the delay means RTG and the city are sprucing up the hoarding, the overlay that covers the construction sites' fences and barriers, and cleaning the streets.

'Taken extra steps'

To address safety concerns about revellers who over-imbibe and consider trying to enter the construction zones, Cripps says the Ottawa police visited the work areas to make sure they're protected.

"We have assessed the situation and we have taken extra steps to make sure those sites are extra, extra secure, and to beef up their resilience in case there are crowds on the streets," he said.

A decades-long parliamentary restoration project means even the Hill itself has sections covered in scaffolding and construction equipment, including two cranes that compete for attention with the iconic Peace Tower, as the federal government finishes work on the West Block.

But Jantine Van Kregten, spokeswoman for Ottawa Tourism, says she doesn't worry about visitors' perception of the city at a time when construction is heavy downtown.

"Construction in a city is a sign of growth, a sign of prosperity. It's a sign that things are changing... It's a part of life," she said.

Plus, Van Kregten says, there's far less construction on the Hill this year compared to the last few.

"It's looking better than it has in probably 7 years," she said.

"We notice these things because we're every-day residents of Ottawa. But if you've never been to Ottawa before, you don't know what before looked like... I still think the Instagram posts and the tweets that are going out are still going to be spectacular."

Graphic by Nick Kirmse /

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