Canadian Consulting Engineer

Reader disputes need for expanded highway

The following is from a letter received in response to the ACEC Chair's Report in the August-September 2000 issue of Canadian Consulting Engineer.Dear Mr. Chalcroft:In your Chair's Report column in th...

December 1, 2000   Canadian Consulting Engineer

The following is from a letter received in response to the ACEC Chair’s Report in the August-September 2000 issue of Canadian Consulting Engineer.

Dear Mr. Chalcroft:

In your Chair’s Report column in the August/September 2000 edition of Canadian Consulting Engineer you point out that our federal government is seriously under-funding our National Highway System. You have therefore asked us to lobby our federal and provincial governments to do more than offer “Band-Aid” solutions to Canada’s $17 Billion national highway deficit.

So far so good, But then you go on to say that we should “start by committing to convert all the Trans-Canada Highway to a four lane divided highway before this decade is over. That means twinning vast stretches of our national highway system in B.C., Saskatchewan, Ontario and the Atlantic provinces.”

Surely, by advocating that our federal and provincial governments spend vast sums of tax dollars to widen vast stretches of the Trans-Canada Highway without any demonstrated need for such a wholesale widening (or regard for the cost of maintaining such a magnificent four-lane divided highway system) the ACEC is making a mockery of its members.

The serious problems Canada faces with its failing infrastructure works cry out for well-engineered solutions that target the problems. By advocating that our federal government tailgate truckloads of tax dollars indiscriminately over all two-lane sections of the Trans-Canada Highway, the ACEC is signalling to our politicians that consulting engineers believe that Canada can somehow be taxed into prosperity.

Please rethink this indefensible position in favour of one that complies with the most basic canons of engineering.

Given the brain-power and technical resources of the ACEC and its affiliates, I have no doubt that you could fashion a comprehensive plan that would not only knock the socks off our policy-makers but also impress the public media, Let’s do it right, or not at all.

Dr. N.K. Becker, P.Eng.,

N.K. Becker Inc., Windsor, Ontario

ACEC Chair’s response:

I am pleased to respond to Dr. Becker’s letter respecting my Chair’s Column in the August/September issue of this magazine. I want to thank him for having joined in the debate on how engineers can help to influence public policy decisions that affect modern society and our national economy.

I also want to briefly respond to your concerns with my suggestion that the Trans-Canada Highway should be twinned coast to coast in the current decade. For my part, I agree that Canada needs to invest its scarce financial resources wisely and I am not in favour of deficit financing or raising taxes to get the job done. But I also believe that enough study has been conducted at least to allow responsible public policy makers to get started with the job of making our national highway safer for motorists and competitive for business. Currently it is neither and ACEC is continuing to put pressure on the federal government to see that it happens.

If readers are uncertain of where they can go to find information on the state of our national highway system, I refer you to the internet site http://www.highway1canada.com. There you will find the 1999 Pre-Budget Position Paper by “The Coalition to Renew Canada’s Infrastructure” (CRCI) that includes reference to background studies on the state of our national highway.

See, for example, the Canadian Council of Transportation Ministers report on the National Highways System, 1998. The report concluded that if $17 billion were invested in upgrading Canada’s 25,000 kilometre National Highways System to bring it to an acceptable standard:

247 lives would be saved annually;

injuries would be reduced by 16,000 annually;

fuel consumption would be reduced by about 300 million litres per year as would the greenhouse gas emissions that accompany them;

national productivity would increase due to reduced time to market; and,

benefits would total $4 to $5 billion annually

Through the website you can also view a video on the Trans-Canada Highway produced by the Transportation Caucus of federal Liberal MPs.

ACEC has been a supporter of the Coalition to Renew Canada’s Infrastructure for some time. Other supporting organizations include the Alliance of Manufacturers and Exporters, the Canadian Construction Association, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Business Council on National Issues, the Canadian Automobile Association, and the Trans Canada #1 West Foundation.

Traffic collisions continue to kill 3,000 people per year in Canada, cause about 1,000 people to suffer permanent spinal cord and brain injuries, not to mention the quarter-million Canadians who suffer personal injury and property damage. Many of these are “innocent victims” who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and where highway improvements had not yet been implemented that could have prevented their tragedy. The toll on our health care system is estimated at up to $3 billion per year.

The costs of inactivity are too high. My letter was intended to mobilize political will behind a cause whose time has come. ACEC’s support of the Trans Canada Highway campaign offers a convenient and emotional rallying cry to attract federal attention and secure their commitment.

More people like Dr. Becker need to become vocal on this and other issues where engineering can and does play an important role in improving our society and our economy.

Dave Chalcroft, P.Eng., ACEC Chair

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