Picture upward of 10 years of transportation construction employment with all the spin-off jobs attached to it. Picture a new cityscape that responds to the vehicular traffic flowing into and out of the city via Lake Shore Blvd. Picture the absence of serious traffic congestion and gridlock along Toronto throughways that are currently connected to the Gardiner Expressway.
Now picture the city being sued when one of those chunks of concrete that have been falling off the crumbling Gardiner Expressway causes damage to a vehicle, human injury or, worse, a fatality.
While some would argue that recent attention to the crumbling elevated expressway that bisects the southern edge of the city and the lake shore plays to Mayor Rob Ford’s preference for cars over other forms of urban transportation, recent discussion about the Gardiner really highlights that Toronto’s vehicle infrastructure problem is multi-dimensional. Everyone has an opinion about what needs to be taken care of, but the answer is it all needs to be taken care of.
Transportation infrastructure historically falls behind need and demand, but that should not stop city decision makers from responding in as timely a manner as possible to the growing need. As it is now, Toronto is 30 years, and counting, behind its infrastructure needs. While studies are done and politicians dither, we wait for someone in charge to make the big decisions to get vital road and subway construction moving and, more importantly, completed.
One of the big mistakes of the Mike Harris era, for example, was his Progressive Conservative government’s decision to stop construction of the subway line on Eglinton Avenue West, especially since digging had already begun. Rather than spending the funding that was there to continue what had begun under the Bob Rae government – it was estimated that it would have cost $1.5 billion to build back in 1995 – $50 million was wasted refilling the hole and putting a stop to the project.
Had that construction been allowed to go forward, we would be enjoying an entirely different driving and commuting experience both ways – east and west – along Eglinton Avenue now, rather than the slow drag it is for cars and buses as they filter to and from the Allen Road intersection. That cancellation put this city15 years behind on better public access along Eglinton alone, where vehicular traffic is always a challenge.
Anyone using the Eglinton thoroughfare regularly understands what the folks at the Toronto Board of Trade mean when they talk about a $6 billion annual loss in productivity due to the capacity inadequacy of our current municipal road network.
In the case of the Eglinton dig, the compromise was to complete the Sheppard subway line, which is still underused. So we are not just talking about the need for infrastructure construction, but prudent use of funding. That means giving priority to the Gardiner and putting a stop to the pattern of kicking these decisions further down the road.
The transportation infrastructure issue becomes even more of a concern since the current agreement on funding between the federal government and municipalities is nearing its end. It will be up in 2014.
Hence mayors from the major municipalities converged on Ottawa in November to impress upon the federal government the need for a commitment of $2.5 billion annually for infrastructure maintenance and building.
The mayors argue property taxes that are the funding source for municipal budgets and the more recent federal gas tax are not sufficient to answer all the infrastructure needs of our cities. Sixty per cent of infrastructure maintenance and expansion across Canada fall to municipalities, which spend $12 billion annually.
At the meeting in Ottawa, which Ford did not attend (he was in court dealing with one of a number of cases against him), mayors including Neheed Nenshi of Calgary and Hazel McCallion of Mississauga said they are willing to match federal funding dollar for dollar on new construction. That could mean the eventual introduction of road tolls since Ford’s private funding for his subway plan, for example, has not yet proven itself.
Cities are the economic engines of the country, Toronto still being foremost. To continue to keep making it livable, offer a good quality of life and stay competitive internationally, improving and expanding infrastructure must be understood as a critical investment.
What we need now are political decision makers with the courage to make the big decisions on motorways. They can start now with the Gardiner Expressway.