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Haphazard approach to transportation infrastructure

Haphazard approach to transportation infrastructure

Recently Matti Siemiatycki and Drew Fagan published an article in the Globe and Mail that reported Canada is the only country where major transportation projects are not planned as part of a national long-term strategy. Dr. Siemiatycki is a University of Toronto Geography professor who has written extensively on transportation policy and planning. infrastructure finance and delivery and community and regional planning. Drew Fagan was the former Deputy Minister of Infrastructure for Ontario and is currently professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. So these guys know whereof they speak.

They wrote, “there is little effective co-ordination among the different levels of government, which can lead to second-rate projects being chosen and work being undertaken at cross purposes. Furthermore, Canada has no discernable system for monitoring performance to evaluate projects after implementation and learn for next time.”

“It would be easy to claim these shortcomings are the result of our decentralized federal system, which allocates much responsibility for infrastructure to provinces and territories, which then leave much up to municipalities. There are, indeed, a lot of players involved in Canada, and this can lead to system friction.”

“But the United States, Australia and Switzerland are also federal countries. They all have developed more rigorous approaches, according to the European study, to planning, selecting and evaluating infrastructure investments.”

“In the United States, regional transportation plans must be developed to meet specific guidelines set by Washington. Funding only flows once this is done. When the national government approves funding for state or local projects, furthermore, key measures of success are identified and must be reported on over time. This approach creates clearer accountability for the outcomes of public spending, something often lacking in Canada.”

“The relatively haphazard way that infrastructure is planned in Canada is a big risk to future prosperity. We risk spending money on projects that shouldn’t be at the top of the list, based on the economic, social and environmental benefits they will bring.”

We can see this reflected in the Hamilton LRT project, where $2.4 Billion was suddenly materialized as a result of political lobbying and the whim of a minister. The project had been criticized by the Auditor-General for the lack of proper evaluation of the the project against available and less expensive alternatives. Indeed, the AG was critical of Metrolinx’s entire approach to major transit project selection. In addition, the minister’s declaration that affordable housing was a “condition” of the Hamilton project was quickly found to have no process or accountability, much less funding, in place to ensure that promise could be fulfilled. Instead we have affordable housing flattened and residents displaced—a circumstance that will only worsen if the predicted gentrification of the transit route materializes.

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