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National Transportation Week kicks off in Edmonton

EDMONTON, Alta. - National Transportation Week kicked off in Canada May 28, with a conference in Edmonton that brought together transportation professionals from coast-to-coast.Much of the conference ...

EDMONTON, Alta. – National Transportation Week kicked off in Canada May 28, with a conference in Edmonton that brought together transportation professionals from coast-to-coast.

Much of the conference focused on transportation infrastructure, and the dire need to address these challenges immediately.

Barry Prentice, director of the Transport Institute at the University of Manitoba, made a presentation on traffic bottlenecks and their impact on the movement of freight. Prentice has devoted much of his time lately to researching bottlenecks and their impact on the flow of goods.

He described a bottleneck as “any impediment that slows or halts the flow of traffic.”

Prentice told delegates that although there are many causes of bottlenecks, reducing them improves the overall economy.

“As soon as you remove a bottleneck you get an increase in traffic velocity,” said Prentice. “As you remove bottlenecks, the entire economy improves.”

Although many bottlenecks can be alleviated by addressing infrastructure shortfalls, Prentice said it’s unrealistic to think all bottlenecks can be eliminated by adding capacity to highways.

“Any infrastructure bottleneck can be relieved, but there’s never enough money and time, so we really have to pick and choose (which areas to upgrade),” said Prentice.

Federal Transport Minister, David Collenette, was slated to take part in the conference, but as he’s done several times in recent months, he cancelled his trip to Western Canada, sending Assistant Deputy Minister Kristine Burr in his place. Burr touted the recently released Straight Ahead document, which Collenette dubbed a vision for the future of transportation in Canada.

Also presenting on the subject of transportation infrastructure was Dr. Rod Thompson, of Alberta Transportation. Thompson, a strong proponent of Alberta’s trucking industry, laid out the need for more investment from his department’s federal counterparts in Ottawa.

“The highways are the glue that bonds together all the modes (of transportation),” said Thompson.

He was quick to point out that the Province of Alberta re-invests more money into highway infrastructure than it takes in through fuel taxes. On the other hand, the federal government is guilty of pocketing the majority of the fuel tax revenue collected from Albertans.

Thompson pointed out the most important benefit of improved highways is safety. He cited statistics gathered by Alberta Transportation to drive home his point: paving a gravel road results in a 29 per cent decrease in collisions; twinning a highway results in a 47 per cent decrease; adding an interchange results in a 44 per cent decrease in collisions; and improving shoulders results in a 42 per cent reduction in collisions.

“Safety is our number one issue and it effects everything we do,” said Thompson.

He also pointed out the province’s trucking industry shoulders more than its share of the cost of properly maintaining the province’s infrastructure. The trucking industry paid more than $410 million in 2000-2001 with the average five-axle semi paying $10,000 a year in fuel taxes and licensing fees, he said.

“We’re spending more than we’re taking in, in fuel taxes,” said Thompson, calling on the federal government to do likewise. “We’ll be looking at public-private partnerships to finance some new roads.”

Much of those investments will go to Northern Alberta, Thompson said.

“We need roads where there are no roads, mostly in Northern Alberta,” said Thompson. “The north of Alberta requires considerable investments.”

Another presenter of interest was Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) executive director, Kim Royal. He also appealed to Transport Canada representative, Burr, to ask the feds to make more of a contribution to provincial infrastructure needs.

“Since 1993, all federal infrastructure projects have amounted to less than 10 per cent of fuel tax revenue (collected by the feds),” Royal pointed out.

The federal government should view highways as a wealth generator, rather than a cash cow, he suggested. He also said the trucking industry still deserves to know what to expect from Canada’s ratification of the Kyoto Accord.

“What does (Kyoto) mean to the trucking industry? I don’t know,” said Royal.

Royal’s main concern, however, centered on inconsistencies in weights and dimensions between provinces.

“That would be one of the biggest things that could happen, if we’d just get (consistent weights and dimensions),” said Royal.

He wrapped up his presentation by reading a quote from Proverbs.

“Where there is no vision the people will perish,” he read.

A rather dreary synopsis of the current state of transportation infrastructure in Canada, but one that summed up much of what was said by all presenters at the conference.

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