Spending on infrastructure must be a priority, MTA told

MANITOBA, Ont. – Gas Tax Fund money, which amounts to an about $2 billion per year source of funding for municipalities, should be used for core infrastructure work such as roads, bridges and sewers and not squandered on sexier projects, according to Steven Fletcher, minister of state for transport.

“I urge municipalities to use it on roads, bridges and sewers, etc. and not on building stadiums or things like that,” Fletcher told motor carrier executives gathered for the Manitoba Trucking Association’s Annual General Meeting, explaining the money is derived from use of roads and should be reinvested towards that end.

He was responding to a question from MTA’s Bob Dolyniuk on whether Ottawa, which passed legislation back in 2011 to make the Gas Tax Fund a permanent source of funding for municipalities, required municipalities to use the money towards roads and bridges.

Ottawa doesn’t have that requirement apparently but Fletcher suggested the need for infrastructure funding is so great that any municipal council which diverted the money towards other projects likely would end up being voted out of office.

Fletcher said access to the Gas Tax Fund provides communities across Canada with stable, predictable funding for their infrastructure needs.

Meanwhile, Ottawa has supported a number of infrastructure projects in Manitoba in recent years. For example, the federal government invested $42.5 million in Highway 75 through the Gateways and Border Crossings Fund. Strategic funding has also been granted to Centre Port Canada and the Port of Churchill.

To ensure affordability over the long term, Fletcher said a future plan will encourage greater use of public-private partnerships.

“This will help leverage new investments in infrastructure,” he said.

Another key element is the border. Canada and the US have agreed to make significant investments at key border crossings. Based on a preliminary assessment of needs, Canada identified Emerson, Man., as one of the first five initial priority crossings, Fletcher said, adding he hopes to “have more information to provide in the near future on that project.”

Fletcher said it was critical to spend money on infrastructure as a way to make trucking more efficient since trucks move some 90% of all consumer products in Canada.

“Your industry is a critical link in the supply chains that move goods from producers and suppliers to markets, whether those markets are here in Canada, in the United States or overseas. It really boils down to this: when Canadians go to the store to buy a product, it’s a product that probably reached that store by truck,” Fletcher said.

Infrastructure spending was also on the mind of Steve Ashton, Manitoba’s minister of infrastructure and transport.

Ashton said the Manitoba government is now spending $85-$90 million per year on infrastructure, which represents a quadrupling of its spending from past years.  His government, he said, is committed to spending $4 billion over 10 years on the province’s infrastructure.

“I think when people look back 50 years from now and see what we’ve done, it will be right up there with the vision of putting rail across Canada. We are absolutely committed to upgrading our road network and expanding it at the same time,” Ashton said.

Recent projects include work on Highway 74, whose state of disrepair Ashton called an “embarrassment”, as well as Highways 1, 15 and 10.

Another area of focus is all-winter road access into the province’s northern communities, which are experiencing population growth and also a boom in mineral exploration. Such communities were traditionally serviced by winter roads but Ashton said those are becoming more difficult to keep open due to global warming.

“Our vision is to extend our all-weather road network,” he said.

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