21 November 2007


Foundations of Canadian cities 'near collapse,' investment of $123B needed: report
Tue Nov 20, 5:59 PM

By Michael Oliveira, The Canadian Press

TORONTO - Canada's aging roads, bridges and water systems are on the verge of "collapse" and in need of a $123-billion investment, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities warned Tuesday as it urged Ottawa to devise a new strategy to stave off infrastructure disaster.

The federal government countered by saying it has the necessary strategy in place and that "the time for discussion is over."

Canada has used up 79 per cent of the service life of its roads, sewage systems and other vital components of the country's backbone, and municipalities simply can't afford to fix the problem on their own, said federation president Gord Steeves.

Without significant federal funding, infrastructure could begin to fall apart across the country, he said.

"If we don't act soon as a nation to tackle this deficit we will see more catastrophic failures," Steeves said.

The report states that the breakdown of municipal infrastructure has reached "the breaking point" and "much of our municipal infrastructure is past its service life and near collapse."

As the federation was releasing its report in Ottawa, the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario weighed in on the state of the province's bridges, warning $2 billion in repairs would be needed to ensure 40 per cent of the structures don't fall apart within the next five years.

Bridge safety became a serious public concern last October after five people died when a bridge collapsed in Laval, Que. Another 13 people lost their lives and 100 more were injured this past August when a highway bridge collapsed in Minnesota.

"We had a sense that (Ontario) bridges were generally deteriorating, we had a sense that municipalities were having more and more of a difficult time maintaining these structures, (but) what we got was an eye opener, I think it's a wake-up call," said Andy Manahan, the alliance's executive director.

"The report makes clear that inspections are not being enforced, that hundreds of these structures need rehabilitation, that there's no guarantee that our bridges are safe. So let's not wait for a disaster."

Steeves said the federal government must acknowledge that infrastructure is falling into disrepair nationwide and implement a national plan to fix it once and for all.

But federal Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities Lawrence Cannon said the federation is misleading the public in suggesting that he hasn't already acted.

A new $33-billion, seven-year "Building Canada" plan will help fund infrastructure renewal in big cities and small towns and will address some of the priorities the federation is focusing on, including roads, bridge rehabilitation and safe drinking water, he said.

The federation can continue to debate how much money is truly needed to address all the country's infrastructure problems but the government has a plan and is moving forward to implement it, he added.

"The time for discussion is over, there's $33 billion available, it's going to carry us over the next seven years and we're up and ready to fund (infrastructure projects)," Cannon said in an interview.

"The debate is not what's the amount, the debate should be around what we're doing."

Liberal cities and communities critic Paul Zed said the Conservative plan is woefully inadequate to deal with the overall problem, and that even the people it's designed to serve have no idea how or when they'll get access to the funding.

"People don't know what the Building Canada fund is that the Conservatives have proposed," Zed said.

"It's clear to me that the current government doesn't appreciate the importance of this."

During Question Period in the House of Commons, New Democrat Leader Jack Layton said years of Liberal negligence created the infrastructure deficit but the Conservatives aren't doing enough to deal with it.

Governments will never have enough money to promptly fix or replace every structure in their jurisdictions, so they need to do a better job of closely monitoring which ones pose the biggest safety risks and address them as needed, said Dr. Ghani Razaqpur, the chair of civil engineering at McMaster University.

"It is not sufficient to just say we should just spend more money - that is important, we need the money to fix these things - but I don't think we have enough money to fix all the bridges that we think are in bad shape," Razaqpur said.

"I think we have to prioritize how to do the ones that are in the most urgent need and then do the second tier and so on."

The study team sent questionnaires to 166 municipal governments and got responses from 85. It used these replies to arrive at the $123-billion price tag.

The estimated $123-billion infrastructure deficit is divided into several categories: water and wastewater systems ($31 billion), transportation ($21.7 billion), transit ($22.8 billion), solid-waste management ($7.7 billion) and community, recreational, cultural and social infrastructure ($40.2 billion).

Why have our governments managed to stay solvent all of these years? Because they don't fix anything! Building new stuff exclusively is a great way to stay in the black....and popular. Now we're in a heap of trouble with a groaning, stretched infrastructure that probably won't last another ten years without huge re-investment. The solution? USER PAY! USER PAY!

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