Canadian Consulting Engineer

Canadian Consulting Engineer   

Traffic snarls must go, says panel of engineers

Engineering

CONFERENCECalls for governments to do something about our infrastructure problems are becoming more strident as traffic lockjam increases around our cities.At the "Infrastructure 99" roundtable held b...

CONFERENCE

Calls for governments to do something about our infrastructure problems are becoming more strident as traffic lockjam increases around our cities.

At the “Infrastructure 99” roundtable held by Consulting Engineers of Ontario at Construct Canada in Toronto in December, panelists pointed out in no uncertain terms that transportation systems are chronically underfunded, and that governments better do something quickly about the gridlock on roads because it is harming our environments and threatening our economic growth. Few speakers were impressed by the Prime Minister’s recent promise after the Throne Speech to invest in a new infrastructure program, suggesting that it will amount to a smoke and mirrors exercise of shifting existing funding around.

Mike Sheflin, P.Eng., of the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton, said that current trends are not sustainable. Transportation’s poor condition leads to congestion, which equals pollution, which equals poor health, which equals social problems. He was exasperated that the government says it cannot afford to spend $800 million on renewing infrastructure, when to do so would save $4 billion per year — “Go figure,” he said. $4 billion is the estimated annual amount that Ontario alone wastes in labour and delayed goods held up in traffic snarls.

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“Mind-boggling” was how Stuart Angus, P.Eng. of Earth Tech (Canada) described the need for new infrastructure. And why? Because, Angus said, funding support for infrastructure has been radically declining at the same time as the economy and the population have been growing. Over the last three to four years, he said, the federal government has reduced its transfer of funds to Ontario by $30 billion, the province has in turn reduced its spending by $10 billion, leaving the municipalities to face the crunch.

Sheflin suggested that the answer is to find user-pay solutions. General taxation, on the other hand, he suggested “creates a foggy blur,” and doesn’t work as a source for funding infrastructure because “we don’t want to take dollars from health care and education.” He also said that the solution is not just to build roads, but to invest in mass transit systems.

Angus’s solution is public-private partnerships. He said they can bring the best out of both sides: the public sector is good at ensuring quality, service and enforcement, while the private sector is good at innovation. Moreover the private sector will always drive to increase revenue and decrease costs. He believes that over the last few years Canadians have learned valuable lessons on how to make these partnerships work: the public sector has learned how to control the process and how to select partners, while the private sector has had to learn that it cannot take complete charge. In the next few years, Angus said, “we will start to see the floodgates open” on these joint arrangements.

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