The cost of bad roads

Beginning April 1, Canadians began paying more at the pump as the national carbon tax was hiked to 10.73 cents per liter of diesel. Thanks to the hike, the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) estimates the trucking industry will pay $538 million in carbon pricing this year.

And it won’t stop there. Further increases could see truckers paying $3 billion a year by 2030. How the money collected through a national carbon tax should be spent is still subject to debate. The CTA would like to see it offered back to the industry in the form of incentives for adopting emissions-reducing technologies. That’s a good idea.

Helping offset the cost of environmentally-friendly technologies will increase their adoption, thus reducing the trucking industry’s carbon output.

Another option worthy of consideration would be to invest in the nation’s roads and bridges. Driving over modern, well designed and properly maintained roads reduces fuel consumption. But unfortunately, a large portion of our highway network is in poor condition, according to a new eye-opening survey from CAA.

The report, titled The Cost of Poor Roads in Canada, was published March 30 and paints a grim picture of the state of our roads. It draws on newly available data from StatCan’s Core Public Infrastructure Survey. The study found that only 52% of Canada’s 1.04 million kilometers of roads are in good or very good condition.

Fifteen per cent are in poor or very poor condition, and 28% are rated fair. That means Canada has 108,000 kms of roads in poor condition and another 48,000 kms in very poor condition.

(Photo: iStock)

It’s road users who pay the price. While the CAA study didn’t break down the cost to commercial vehicle operators, it calculated the average motorist pays an extra $126 a year due to poor quality roads. The cost varies by province, with Quebec and Atlantic Canada faring the worst. Quebec drivers pay a whopping $258 extra each year due to bad roads, while Alberta’s roads are the best maintained, costing drivers only $64 extra per year to navigate.

The total cost of bad roads is $3 billion a year incurred by road users. Yet, we’re also paying more for the privilege of driving on those bad roads through increased taxes. I recognize the carbon tax and road maintenance are two separate issues. But should they be? There’s a direct correlation between road conditions, and fuel consumption and wear and tear on vehicles.

The CAA study goes on to make the case for road maintenance. Every dollar spent on pavement preservation today can eliminate or delay spending $6-$10 on rehabilitation or reconstruction in the future, it reports.

“While new road construction generates headlines, proper maintenance saves us all a lot of money,” the report concludes.

The benefits of increasing spending on road maintenance would directly impact the nation’s trucking industry. Better roads will reduce equipment damage, enhance fuel efficiency, improve uptime and strengthen the supply chain.

That’s to say nothing of the jobs that would be created, jobs that are badly needed as Canada’s economy emerges from the havoc wrought by Covid-19. South of the border, U.S. President Joe Biden is touting a $2-trillion infrastructure bill. While it encompasses much more than roads and bridges, it’s a serious commitment to rebuilding deteriorating infrastructure.

Canada should follow suit, or risk being left behind.

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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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  • We need to know how the carbon tax is being spent. Some of the carbon tax should be providing more parking with electric plugs for trucks and plugs for reefer units. No trucking company should get more than $3,000 per unit or $10,000 per company to promote better batteries and bunk heaters and wind skirts. We also need major updated roads and parking across Canada. Canada has a huge debt that needs to be addressed .

  • I agree entirely with this statement. You would think while driving in parts of Canada that, you were in a third world country. The damage we all suffer from poor roads is considerable. Here in the prairies especially some roads into major cities are just deplorable. Mr Trudeau is set on collecting his so called carbon tax every year moving on. Just what is being done with the money collected? there is no viable infrastructure yet to support fully alternates to fossil fuels it will take years for Canada to develop this.
    Yet in the name of being we are being forced to pay more now, and for every coming year. to truly change the world and help with the green fight, the government could have banned plastic bottles right away, ask households to invest in solar energy, but no; carbon tax on fossil fuels. this is simply a tax to help cover the millions the government has squandered and given away. Has anyone done a study as to the cost of living in three or four years? diesel prices set to soar, no real alternative yet, household good will still have to move by truck while all this infrastructure is being built at every ones expense.
    Look at all the products made from crude oil? diesel and gas are just two of them, will the world ever not need crude oil? most likely not so this carbon tax is simply yet another source of income for the government. People need to realize the amount of money generated in taxes from fuel. Then if the world goes electric over the next ten years so; and we use no fuel where will the government get its taxes from? can the government do without all these taxes? of course not. They will simply then tax the electric bill we all rely on. Think bac over the years when “Propane” was the way to go, people around the world converted vehicles around the world then, government comes along and taxes it to death.

  • Good points & comments. My trucker said exactly the same thing when driving cross border from the US. He said the roads in the US are so well maintained, and well cleaned in the winter!! As soon as you cross into Canada, our roads are like those in a third world country! I too want to know what the carbon tax is being spent on – we need to demand transparency. And not spend OUR $$ on un-proven climate savers like wind farms… made with thousands of TONS of concrete from plants that emit green-house gases; not to mention the birds that they kill!! If Federal Liberals get in again… I will 100% believe that the majority of my fellow Canadians are un-educated morons. All you pot smokers in Canada can just stay home now and don’t have to vote anymore LOL.