To Councillor Blais: Highway 174 and the Infrastructure Deficit
The Ottawa Citizen has an article detailing Councillor Stephen Blais' support for widening Highway 174 and it is illustrative of how cities find themselves with an infrastructure deficit. To wit:
Blais said the expansion could have been underway by now—perhaps even completed—had the city, urged by Blais’ predecessor, not turned down provincial and federal funding for the widening, which was deemed unnecessary. Both levels of government had offered $40 million each, money the east-end councillor said is still available.
But that money comes with a catch.
When the enlarged highway was first proposed in 2008, it was estimated to cost about $115 million. In the four years since it was proposed, construction costs have risen at about 7 per cent per year, Blais said. The problem with the rise in cost is that there is no equivalent increase in provincial and federal funding—their offers were hard dollar figures, not percentages of the total cost.
Every city councillor should question if it makes sense to accept provincial and federal grant money for road building. It might look like good fortune to have two-thirds of your infrastructure paid for by other levels of government, but those grants do not come with promissory notes to help maintain, operate or renew the infrastructure after it has reached the end of its useful life.
Had Ottawa accepted the money in 2008 we would be 100% responsible for rebuilding the highway in 30 to 50 years (I'm uncertain about the average lifespan of a highway). Offering to pay for new roads without promising to pay for their maintenance and renewal is an insidious form of downloading. Everyone now understands downloading onto cities is bad. We need to loathe new road and highway grant money (without matching renewal promises) in the same way we loathe downloading of social services onto property taxes.