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The unfortunate road reality


As voters, we sure can be a funny lot. The American Trucking Associations certainly found that out when it recently attempted to take the pulse of the American public on the critical issue of spending on their nation’s transportation infrastructure.

The ATA’s poll, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and comprising 800 respondents, found a surprising amount of support among the American public for spending more on infrastructure. Participants were asked whether the US should spend more or spend less on several priorities, including K-12 public schools; transportation infrastructure; anti-terrorism and national defense; health care; and environmental protection.

While K-12 public schools came out on top, spending on infrastructure came out second with 48% supporting an increase in spending and only 10% wanting to spend less. Seventy one per cent of respondents felt their nation’s roadways were only in fair to poor condition. Almost half of Americans (49%) believe traffic congestion impacts the quality of their life.

So it would seem US truckers’ long-term plea to improve the nation’s infrastructure is in line with the American public. And that can only be good news for fleet executives hoping for the same kind of support here.

Well, not exactly.

When survey respondents were told that “it is estimated that in order to repair, update and modernize their nation’s roads, highways and bridges, it would cost $4 trillion over the next 25 years” and then given several different ways that this money could be raised, their enthusiasm for infrastructure improvements quickly fizzled. Not one of the funding proposals received a better than 36% approval rating.

Crazy Yanks, eh? They want good roads; they just don’t want to pay for them.

Well, I’m not sure Canucks are much different. Everyone I know complains about the state of the roadways; everyone I know also complains about the size of their tax bill.

Add to that our demographic dilemma – significant labour shortages are expected for the multi-billion dollar projects in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Alberta, raising costs. Also, as was pointed out a couple of years ago by the Van Horne Institute in a white paper on reforming Canada’s transportation policies, our “antiquated constitutional system” continues to toss wrenches into government decision making. Cities are the engines of economic growth and (much as I hate to admit it, since I’ve been living in the country the last 20 years) from that point of view deserve the majority of the funding available for infrastructure renewal.

But can rural and small town politicians, egged on by their constituents, ever accept a smaller share of infrastructure money? Likely not.

Perhaps, the time has come to get politics out of infrastructure renewal. Perhaps it’s time to consider, as the Van Horne Institute suggests, a new paradigm for building infrastructure. Devolving the ownership of roads to a new network institution entrusted with the responsibility to maintain and improve the network and charge users appropriately, is the Institute’s suggestion.

It may seem a radical move. It may also be worth considering.


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