LEADERS: MTA’s Bob Dolyniuk on the challenge of dealing with our crumbling infrastructure
February 21, 2013
Q. An unfortunate reality is that unless roads and bridges are completely crumbling, it has proven difficult to make infrastructure spending a priority. What can the trucking industry do to raise awareness to the point that politicians feel...
Q.An unfortunate reality is that unless roads and bridges are completely crumbling, it has proven difficult to make infrastructure spending a priority. What can the trucking industry do to raise awareness to the point that politicians feel they have to act?
Dolyniuk: That’s a good question. We are fortunate that our current minister lives in Thompson, Manitoba. There is one highway to get to Thompson and the minister knows that if that highway is closed you don’t get in and out unless you can afford a plane ticket. There is major industry there with mining and the majority of the supplies come up by truck. If they don’t have that access the community doesn’t exist.
Our highways have been deteriorating since the great building spurts of the 60s and early 70s. All governments in Manitoba share in the responsibility for the state of our infrastructure today. I can remember years when the capital budget was less than $100 million. Now this government has committed $4 billion over 10 years to infrastructure. That is significantly more than we were putting towards infrastructure before as a province.
Unfortunately, and I hate to say it, it’s almost too little too late. You are talking about a province that has somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 bridges. Bridge life is somewhere between 40 and 50 years. We have hundreds if not thousands of bridges reaching the end of their life span. Some of them haven’t been inspected in over a decade.
Although there has been a significant increase in infrastructure capital funding it is not going to get us out of the hole we are in. If you have not maintained your infrastructure in 30 to 40 years, you’re not going to save it in 10 years by doubling or tripling your investment. The longer you allow something to deteriorate the more it costs to repair it or you may get to the point where you have to tear it down and start all over again. We probably need to spend double what we are spending now. And I’m not sure there are the resources within the province to maintain that sort of pace of rehabilitation.
Q.So we seem to be in a very difficult situation where we rely on trade to prosper as a country but trade requires efficient infrastructure. Yet even with a government such as Manitoba’s which is willing to invest in infrastructure we still can’t invest enough. What’s the solution? Is there a solution?
Dolyniuk: If trade is the priority, you have to identify what the primary trade routes are and make sure they are protected and then move to the secondary and tertiary routes. You are going to have to prioritize. There are going to be some people who won’t like the priorities. I think the government is thinking in this way to some extent. You don’t see a lot of new highways being built. If we saw the federal and provincial government announcing new highways rather than trying to fix what we already have, we would have some serious concerns. The only major project we have is the Centreport Way in the northwest quadrant of Winnipeg and it will be good for us because it will give the trucking industry a more direct route to the TransCanada highway.
Beyond that you don’t see governments announcing major new highway developments, which is good. If we don’t put more dollars into the infrastructure rehabilitation, we have to, at some point, consider downgrading highways. That could mean that you have to take smaller trucks into certain areas, which creates inefficiencies. It’s not a good situation but what other alternatives are there?
Q.Speaking of alternatives, there has been a move among governments at all levels in Canada and the US to help fund infrastructure projects by turning to private enterprise to build and then pay for construction by tolling. What is the MTA’s view on this approach to building infrastructure?
Dolyniuk: I don’t know of too many people in the trucking industry who are pro-toll roads. We’ve had a number of public-private partnerships in the Winnipeg area with a slightly different model where the developer pays for the cost upfront and sells it back to the city or province at a certain point in time and that has worked well for a couple of roadways. Certainly that’s a possibility. The MTA board has talked about how to pay for roads. I don’t think our industry in Manitoba would have difficulty supporting an increase on fuel tax as long as there was a legal commitment to put that into road and bridge infrastructure.
Q.Why is there such a distaste for tolled roads?
Dolyniuk: Only once in my life have I seen a situation where the toll came off a road once the road had been paid for, albeit long after it was paid for, and I’m not a young fellow.
Q.Manitoba has proposed changes to its Highway Traffic Act, which could extend winter weight periods. Why was this necessary?
Dolyniuk: Right now additional winter weights are allowed on some roads and it’s date driven. This amendment allows the minister to decide that if the weather dictates that it’s appropriate to increase winter weights on a particular date we can move to that date (rather than the previous fixed date). Conversely when it comes to spring road restrictions, if winter lasts longer, he can postpone spring load restrictions. This certainly can be beneficial to us.
Q.Do these amendments go far enough or is more work needed in terms of sizes and weights legislation in Manitoba?
Dolyniuk: Certainly there are number of things we would like to see Manitoba implement such as the new generation wide base tires with RTAC weights. This province has been very reluctant to do that despite the fact those tires have been around for more than a decade now. We suggested they should consider Ontario and Quebec and follow their example. We have fleets out here that are using these tires and there are fleets here that could benefit from using them. Certainly there is an economic and environmental rationale behind using them.
Q.There was talk late last year that the Province of Manitoba was considering cutting its snow-clearing budget and removing overnight snow clearing services on Highways 1, 16, 59, and 75. Did they push through on that?
Dolyniuk: They did. The province used to have a stand-in crew working the midnight shift, whether it was snowing or not. So what they’ve done is stand down that shift and if there is a need for plows they are called out on an as-needed basis. If the crews are at home now and it’s taking someone to call them in, obviously the snow clearing will start somewhat later, there is no doubt about that.
Q.Speaking of winter, there has been talk about freight growth at the Port of Churchill as ice continues to melt which would result in more north-south truck traffic through the province. Is this pie in the sky thinking or a realistic possibility?
Dolyniuk: The Port of Churchill is something governments have been supporting for decades. Omnitrax runs the rail up to Churchill. CN saw it as a loss and sold it to Omnitrax several years ago. So today the Manitoba government is subsidizing an American company to keep the track going in northern Manitoba. If climate change is occurring, and the temperatures are rising and the shipping season can be extended, the ship insurers have to first agree that the shipping season has been extended. Second, if the ice is melting then the bog that the railway tracks are built on will probably start thawing. That’s the biggest challenge. Even if the Port of Churchill can be open longer, is the infrastructure between Thomson and Churchill up to it because all there is there now is the rail line.
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