Canada’s leaky municipal infrastructure faces an increasingly grim future unless the federal government sinks an estimated $171.8 billion into repairing or replacing aging roads and water systems, a new report says.
With the Conservatives’ infrastructure funding plan set to expire in 2014, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ first-ever national infrastructure report card called for a commitment from Ottawa to support cash-strapped municipalities, many of which are home to decaying, “at-risk” infrastructure.
The report, a sweeping examination of 123 municipalities that was released Tuesday, paints a bleak portrait of Canada’s roads and wastewater systems. More than half of municipal roads received a grade of “fair” to “very poor” for displaying general physical decline, significant signs of corrosion or “widespread signs of advanced deterioration.”
“(The report) affirms that we know that there is infrastructure that is not meeting a certain standard across the country,” FCM president Karen Leibovici said in an interview. “We need to tackle that . . . to ensure that the infrastructure we have throughout this country is able to meet needs.”
Shabby roads have made headlines in recent months after massive concrete blocks shattered on Montreal’s Ville-Marie Expressway and pieces of Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway rained down on bustling Lakeshore Blvd. Last Tuesday, an Ottawa motorist drove into a sinkhole caused by a collapsed culvert pipe on Highway 174.
Leibovici stressed that it remains incumbent upon the federal government to narrow the so-called infrastructure deficit by providing top-down funding beyond 2014.
Since it was hatched in 2007, the Conservatives’ “Building Canada” plan has provided about $2 billion annually in infrastructure funding to municipalities. Ottawa’s gas tax fund funnels $2 billion into cities for public works projects and this year’s budget promised future cash for public works projects.
Still, NDP Transport and Infrastructure critic Olivia Chow called the current situation “simply unacceptable.”
“Bridges dropping concrete and highway sinkholes swallowing cars are not freak accidents but symptomatic of the crumbling infrastructure across Canada,” she said in a statement. “The Harper Conservatives have neglected Canada’s roads, water and transit systems and Canadians are paying the price.”
Government officials are in talks with local and provincial leaders and private sector interests about crafting a funding plan to kick in when the current one expires, said Geneviève Sicard, press secretary for Infrastructure Minister Denis Lebel.
The report card, which does not contain recommendations, also highlighted widespread decrepitude in wastewater infrastructure, with roughly 40 per cent of pumping stations and storage tanks experiencing varying degrees of decline.
New federal wastewater regulations will likely improve several hundred water systems across the country, but those come with a hefty $20 billion price tag that municipalities will have to cover over the next two decades.
Guy Félio, a Carleton University civil engineer and lead author on the study, said the report card should send a clear message to the federal government “we’re in a position to control our destiny from an infrastructure perspective and for that we need to manage it properly.”
Municipalities leave federal stimulus money on table
Ninety-nine “shovel-ready” municipal projects that planned to take advantage of $4 billion in federal stimulus money were forced to forgo grants after missing a federal government-mandated completion deadline last year.
In 2009, the Conservatives had offered 3,913 projects money from its Infrastructure Stimulus Fund, intending to steamroll a lagging economy. The deadline for those projects — including more than 500 projects, such as road and bridge revitalizations, in Toronto — was extended to Oct. 31, 2011, from March 31, 2011.
While Ottawa said it would cover “its share of all eligible costs” up to the extended deadline, Infrastructure Canada remains tight-lipped on the amount of money municipalities left on the table.
“Infrastructure Canada cannot provide the total amount of funding that these projects may have to forgo, given that all projects are not yet complete and the final financial reconciliation has not been completed,” a ministry spokesperson Caroline Grondin said.