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Region needs to feed its T. rex

15 May 2015
By Grant LaFleche, The Standard

You might want to sit down before you read what is coming next.

Are you sitting? Maybe have a paper bag to hyperventilate into? No? Well, you can’t say I didn’t warn you.

Because I need to say this.

Bob Gale is right.

Let’s face it, the junior regional councillor from Niagara Falls hasn’t exactly impressed during his first term. Yet let it never be said I won’t give credit where it is due.

When the man is right, the man is right.

So what has Mr. Gale hit so squarely on the head?


I know infrastructure is about as sexy as Stephen Harper at a twerking contest, but stay with me here. It’s important.

Niagara Region is casting a close eye on infrastructure items, like roads, because it is going to cost a giant pile of money to repair and maintain.

Consider by way of a for instance, the work to replace the Burgoyne Bridge in St. Catharines. It is going to cost $91 million to finish.

The scary part is the bridge is just the very tip of a mammoth financial iceberg.

The Region figures it will cost $250 million over the next decade to maintain the roads it owns. That works out to $25 million annually.

Oh, and that $250 million does not include the roads owned by Niagara’s individual municipalities. Nor does it take into account water, sewage and other infrastructure costs.

Infrastructure isn’t merely the elephant in the council chambers. It’s a full-grown Tyrannosaurus rex, and the beast needs feeding.

Every couple of years, the Canadian Construction Association, the Canadian Public Works Association, the Canadian Society of Civil Engineering and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities release a national infrastructure report card.

They survey municipalities across Canada to get a handle on the state of our infrastructure. The 2015 report hasn’t come out yet but the last one, issued in 2012, doesn’t paint a pretty picture.

It found 52% of Canadian roads were in need of attention. The cost three years ago to do that work was more than $91 billion — that’s billion, with a B — which works out to more than $7,000 per Canadian household.

We could launch our own mission to Mars with that money — and again, we are only talking about roads here!

How did this happen?

Most of our infrastructure was built in the 1960s. It’s old and wearing out. For decades, governments big and small have played the “defer the spending” square dance while slowly but surely the infrastructure has crumbled.

The worst part of that approach, as the report card points out, is it doesn’t actually save money.

The longer you wait to spend on infrastructure, the more it ends up costing.

Wait for a bridge to become structurally unsound and you will have to pay millions more than a repair might have years before — assuming it doesn’t fall on someone first.

There is federal money specifically aimed at infrastructure, but it falls woefully short of the actual needs of Canadian cities.

Which brings us back to what Bob Gale got right.

He pointed to a number of roads in Niagara that effectively beat up vehicles, particularly transport trucks, including the fuel tanker trucks he used to control as the big boss of Gales Fuels, now run by his daughter.

Those roads are so rough, business owners and tourists are all wary of using them. And businesses and tourists staying away equals revenue lost, to say nothing of the cost of having unsafe bridges and roads in Niagara.

Like everyone else, Niagara is not spending the money to keep up with the demand. For instance, it allocated $7 million for road resurfacing in 2015, which is only half of what’s required to meet the need.

Gale labelled the situation “disgraceful.”

I think he was being kind.

He suggests Niagara needs to refocus on how it spends public money, including using regional investments and economic development funds to shore up infrastructure.

It’s hard to argue that he’s wrong, unless you figure horseback riding is the transportation trend of the future. In which case, giddy up.
Last Modified: May 15, 2015 11:46 AM
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