A dedicated national funding plan for infrastructure would go a long way toward addressing Toronto’s chronic gridlock issues, says a spokesperson for a coalition of economic and municipal groups.
Speaking on behalf of the Municipal Infrastructure Forum (MIF), Carol Wilding wants more money from the federal government to put toward the nation’s deteriorating core infrastructure - such as roadways and transit systems - which the CEO of the Toronto Board of Trade believes is creating rampant congestion in the city and resulting in productivity losses in the billions of dollars.
“Our overstretched networks are becoming a major barrier to our growing economy,” said Wilding, from the Toronto Board of Trade’s downtown office which hosted a press conference for MIF on Thursday, Nov. 8.
“Toronto’s problems of gridlock and poor transit connectivity are among the worst of any major urban centre in the world.”
While the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper is scheduled to release a new infrastructure funding plan by 2014 - to replace the existing $8.8-billion Building Canada plan - the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), which spearheaded the formation of MIF more than a year ago, wants to see money allocated as soon as next year’s budget, to be tabled by the spring.
“Canada cannot afford to lose a construction season,” said Karen Leibovici, president of FCM. “A new long-term plan is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reverse the long decline in our local infrastructure and to keep Canada on the road to jobs and growth.”
Robert Tremblay from the Insurance Bureau of Canada, who also spoke at the press conference, said damage incurred from the Sandy super storm which ravaged the U.S. east coast in late October caused around $20-billion in insurance claims.
He warned a similar weather event touching down in Toronto would be devastating for the local economy since the city’s water and sewer infrastructure, as well as its road networks, are “under-designed” and not built to withstand the impact of extreme weather.
“The issue here is not just inconvenience like basement flooding,” said Tremblay, who is the director of research for the Insurance Board of Canada. “The fact is, infrastructure underpins every economic activity.
“That’s what the real challenge is, making sure our infrastructure can withstand the new climatic realities.”
Wilding said she hoped to see a guarantee from the federal government for transit funding spanning decades to ensure completion of the provincial Big Move transportation plan.
“Businesses will tell you the number one issue is transit and transportation,” said Wilding. “It’s a significant regional challenge.”
Of the estimated $50-billion it would cost to complete the plan, only $10-billion has thus far been allocated by the provincial government.
Even with a federal funding commitment, taxpayers will likely have to pay more for substantial transit expansion. Long before he announced his resignation in October, Premier McGuinty directed Metrolinx, the provincial planning agency, to finalize a list of tax revenue-generating tools by June 2013 to help pay for the remainder of Big Move.
Metrolinx has said it will take annual funding in the neighbourhood of $2 billion per year to complete the 25-year regional plan.
The City of Toronto will also hold a series of public meetings to discuss the paying of new transit, including a recent proposal from the TTC for a downtown relief subway line to reduce overcrowding on the Yonge line which would cost a minimum of $3 billion to construct.
While Wilding was pleased with the current pace of transit construction for local projects – the Spadina subway extension, the Union Station renovation and Pearson Union air rail link are all scheduled for completion within the next four years – she said Toronto, like other North American cities, desperately needs more transit to make up for years of inactivity.
“We’re decades behind and we’re in a significant catch-up mode,” she said.
Leibovici said the coalition, which includes the Insurance Board of Canada, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Union of Public Employees among others, is preparing a list of specific projects and costs it wants to see receive priority for funding.
Toronto federal Conservative MPs Mark Adler and Joe Oliver did not respond to requests for comment on this story.