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“Tough choices” could include shift away from truck transport: Collenette

Is Ottawa serious about a modal shift away from truck? Listening to the latest speech from the Transport Minister one could certainly think so. Saying it's time for Ottawa to make some "tough choices,...

Is Ottawa serious about a modal shift away from truck? Listening to the latest speech from the Transport Minister one could certainly think so. Saying it’s time for Ottawa to make some “tough choices,” David Collenette has given perhaps his strongest indication to date that he wants Ottawa’s future funding focus to shift away from road transport.

“What we really need to ask ourselves is: are we making the most effective use of all modes? Certain parts of our transportation network have reached their capacity, while other links are not being used to their full potential,” Collenette told transportation industry stakeholders meeting in Ottawa last month. “The solution in southern Ontario is not to make the 401 into 14 lanes. That’s nuts. I believe we have to have a basic change in the transportation paradigm and slow the growth of traffic in truck and invest in other modes…For example, if we made better use of the St. Lawrence Seaway for transporting goods, we could reduce the congestion on nearby highways – and take pressure off some of our busiest trade corridors. “

He added that he also believes Ottawa should invest in the rebuilding of the railway infrastructure.

Collenette was speaking to members of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in North America attending a Situation and Outlook Conference in Ottawa.

The industry has sharply criticized Ottawa in recent years for not providing greater focus on transportation-related issues. But Collenette said that while the September 11 terrorist attacks have now placed transportation in the spotlight, there are other key public policy reasons why transportation will continue to “be at the heart of the government’s agenda well into the future.” He pointed to the following statistics: Forty percent of Canada’s GDP is directly linked to trade, much of it in goods that cross the U.S. border. And the number of trucks crossing the Canada-U.S. border has almost doubled in the last decade, from 20,000 per day in 1991 to 36,000 in 1999. Yet 80% of this growing traffic goes through five very busy gateways. The bulk of rail exports is also transported through a select few gateways.

“As the aftermath of September 11 illustrated, our transportation system is the lifeblood of our economy. But the growing congestion at our borders and in our major urban areas is taking a toll on the economy,” he said.

He pointed to the $2B Strategic Infrastructure Fund in the 2001 budget, which included a new border infrastructure program worth $600 million, and the $600 million Strategic Highway Infrastructure Program announced in February 2000, as indication Ottawa is getting serious about helping out but said he will continue to press for more resources.”This funding has to be seen as just the beginning,” he said.

He also challenged the competing modes to look at each other more as partners and less as competitors.

“What is required, in my view, is for all sectors of the transportation system to focus on expanding and building more intermodal strategic alliances. This would not only improve individual companies’ bottom lines, it would improve our nation’s collective bottom line with a more efficient, better integrated and more sustainable transportation system,” he said.

He added that he plans to release his final Transportation Blueprint soon and expects it to serve as a framework for future government actions and as a connection to many parts of Ottawa’s broader

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