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Opportunities for improving infrastructure best theyve been in 40 years, top bureaucrats say

TORONTO, Ont. -- The main message from the high-level bureaucrats included in a transportation policy session at th...

TORONTO, Ont. — The main message from the high-level bureaucrats included in a transportation policy session at the Transpo 2007 conference held this week in Toronto was that both political will and understanding are currently aligning in such a way that there are opportunities to make improvements to our transportation infrastructure that havent been available in maybe 40 years.

Governments understand that the last time there was a major build-out was when we were children. There is an understanding that we need to be putting in place long-term plans and strategies for infrastructure projects on a 20-year basis, David OToole, assistant deputy minister for Ontarios ministry of transport, told the packed room of shippers, carriers and freight forwarders.

As indication his province does get it, OToole pointed to the Move Ontario program which is providing $1.2 billion for public transit, municipal roads & bridges; the $1.8 billion to be spent on northern Ontario highways; the $3.4 billion to be spent on southern Ontario highways; and the $800 million being spent with the federal government and other stakeholders on improving border access.

Kristine Burr, assistant deputy minister, policy, for Transport Canada, said the federal government is changing its approach to transportation policy and infrastructure investment.

Yesterdays approaches measure commitment only in taxpayers dollars, she said. A systems approach places emphasis on integration of a range of policy and regulatory issues, including taxation, governance, land use planning, and the skills/labour market.
Acknowledging that the signals a government sends affect the investment decisions of private companies, Burr said the government is looking to promote infrastructure investment. She pointed out that infrastructure is a key pillar in the federal governments Advantage Canada strategic long-term plan to build economic prosperity. She said Transport Canada is working towards a comprehensive plan for infrastructure that includes:

– Long-term predictable funding.
– A fair and transparent provincial/territorial allocation for a program to support: the National Highway System; other large-scale projects including transit and wastewater; and small-scale municipal projects. – – — Funds, accessible on a merit basis, to support public-private-partnership (P3) projects; a requirement for consideration of P3 options for all larger projects; and establishment of a federal P3 office.
– gateways and border crossings, particularly projects selected pursuant to a new national gateway and trade corridor policy.

Both OToole and Burr also stressed the importance of environmental concerns, something OToole said flavors every decision that we make and so must be woven into every proposal or it will not go forward.

The Conservative government has been much maligned for its perceived inattention to the environment but Burr said that minister of transport Lawrence Cannon has decreed that all infrastructure programs include environmental objectives such as reducing greenhouse gases and improving the quality of water and air.

She also referred to the governments ecoTransport Strategy, which provides about $100 million in funding towards new initiatives in clean transportation, including a technology for vehicles program and ecoFreight initiatives.

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