Canadian Consulting Engineer

ACEC meets Commons Transport Committee

The deterioration of Canada's highways will put the country at an economic disadvantage with respect to international and inter-provincial trade, and it is exposing the travelling public to unnecessar...

March 1, 2003  Canadian Consulting Engineer

The deterioration of Canada’s highways will put the country at an economic disadvantage with respect to international and inter-provincial trade, and it is exposing the travelling public to unnecessary risk. That was one of the key messages delivered by ACEC when it met with the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport. ACEC stressed that, given the current $44 billion infrastructure deficit, investments in infrastructure require long-term planning and firm commitments. The deficit in highways alone is $17.2 billion. The ACEC delegation asked for a well funded permanent national strategy that will give Canadians what they need: clean water, safer disposal of wastes, reliable highways and a more efficient rail system.

The National Highway System challenge

The ACEC delegation was composed of the ACEC President, Mr. Claude Paul Boivin and two experts on transportation, Mr. Peter Boyd, P. Eng., President of Delcan, and Mr. Pierre-Andr Dugas, ing., Vice-President, Transport of Gnivar. ACEC pointed out that of the 25,000 kilometres designated as the National Highway System, only 7,300 kilometres are multi-lane divided highways. Today the National Highway System is carrying 72 billion vehicle-kilometres per year. Studies have shown that 38% of the National Highway System is below minimum geometric design standard or below the 90 km/h minimum operating speed standard. Over 20% of the National Highway System’s 3,500 bridges require major strengthening or rehabilitation.

In spite of these recognized deficiencies in the quality and capacity of the National Highway System, the federal government has limited its dedicated investment in highways to $600 million over four years, which is the equivalent of $5 per capita per year. Even with the $2 billion strategic infrastructure fund, of which only a limited part will go to highways, Canada is way behind the United States in terms of commitment to safe and reliable highways. For our highway transportation infrastructure to be competitive with the U.S., Canada will have to do better or risk losing commercial and tourist traffic to the safer more efficient southern routes.

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In order to address the crisis facing the Canadian National Highway System, ACEC made the following five recommendations:

Recommendation 1. That the federal government, in concert with the provinces, territories and municipalities, establish a set of priorities for investments in infrastructure based, first, on the health and safety of Canadians and, second, on the benefits to the Canadian economy;

Recommendation 2. That the federal government demonstrate leadership in addressing the national infrastructure deficit by committing to a 15-year plan of action and to a stable level of funding necessary to implement the plan, and that such funding have the same budgetary priority as the repayment of the national debt;

Recommendation 3. That funding for infrastructure be tied to commitments from partners, including other levels of government, to ensure that adequate funding for maintenance is, or will be, in place for the entire life cycle of the works;

Recommendation 4. That the federal government recognize the National Highway System as critical to Canada’s economic competitiveness, national unity and quality of life, and by doing so that the National Highway System be covered under the Canada Transportation Act;

Recommendation 5. That the federal government show leadership regarding the National Highway System by encouraging the use of newer funding mechanisms including various tolling methodologies; and that it improve public health and the quality of life by encouraging sustainable transportation.

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