Sunday, August 3, 2008

The time is right for transit plan funding

It's as if there's a hilarious role-reversal going on in Ontario right now: the federal and provincial government is here, cheques in hand, and all they need are good ideas to spend it on. For the city of Ottawa, the pressure is on to get a funding request in good order if there is any hope of securing some of that money for public transit in Ottawa.

An article in the Toronto Star went over the interesting situation, and underlined the urgency cities need to think about with regards to infrastructure projects if they want to take advantage of this undoubtedly temporary generosity.

What's important, now, is to move as quickly as possible on getting shovels in the ground. With Ontario's economy battered by a high Canadian dollar, overheated fuel prices, a weakening U.S. economy and tough competition from countries such as China, the province needs an injection of job-creating construction projects.


Under the federal Building Canada Fund, Ottawa will spend $3 billion over seven years toward public transit, roads, bridges and other infrastructure in Ontario, with the province making a matching contribution.

An additional $3 billion is going to cities through a sharing of the federal tax on gasoline, also announced by Flaherty earlier. Also en route is $175 million in federal cash for special priorities such as waste-water infrastructure.

Obviously, rushing the planning and assessment processes at the expense of quality and thoroughness would be a mistake, but there is a definite urgency in the process right now. Contrary to what Mayor Larry O'Brien might think (or hope), this money is not going to be handed out based on demographics. It's going to be spent on projects that will have the most bang for their buck, and Ottawa is going to have to step it up if we want any significant amount of it.

The article from the Star ended with some words of wisdom with regards to infrastructure planning, which Ottawa's city council should heed if they are to approach transit planning with the right mindset:
It is the nature of big bureaucracies to move slowly. But economy-reviving construction projects and modern urban infrastructure are sorely needed now. Ideally, they should have been started years ago.

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