Report: $17.4 billion needed to improve Canada’s highways

TORONTO — A study conducted for the Canadian ministers of transportation shows that it would take more than $17 billion to bring the nation’s highway system up to basic standard, according to a National Post report.

Fixing the highways would save up to 247 lives and 16,000 injuries from traffic accidents each year, the story said.

The study, called “The National Highway System: Condition and Investment Needs Update 1997,” was prepared for the Council of Ministers Responsible for Transportation and Highway Safety by a project steering committee of senior bureaucrats from the federal and provincial transportation departments. It has not been released to the public.

According to the Canadian Trucking Alliance, which obtained a leaked copy of the report, the study found that the state of Canada’s 25,000-kilometre national highway system — identified as the main arteries used for interprovincial and international transportation — has deteriorated despite government investment of more than $8 billion in capital improvements and $3 billion in maintenance since 1988.

A CTA statement said the study estimates direct financial benefits of repairing the NHS to exceed $30 billion over 25 years, reflecting $22 billion in travel time savings; $5.8 billion in highway safety improvements; $2.9 billion in reduced vehicle operating costs; and, $1.3 billion in network benefits. Fuel consumption would also be reduced by up to 236 million litres of fuel per year.

Earlier this week, a federal Auditor General’s report lashed out at Transport Canada’s management of highway improvement programs, alleging financial mismanagement, shortsighted policy decisions, and that the department is out of touch with provincial needs. Moreover, Canada’s level of federal capital investment in highway infrastructure is among the lowest of the 24 member countries of the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development).

CTA chief executive officer David Bradley told a gathering of the Canadian Transport Lawyers Association in Montreal today that “the federal government has a responsibility to use some of the funds collected from fuel taxes to invest in the infrastructure.”

He said the lack of attention to highways only feeds a “hidden deficit, or at least a deferred deficit.”

Currently, the federal government collects about $4 billion in fuel tax revenue each year. The money is considered general revenue, and is not earmarked for highway projects.

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