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Transportation policy deficiencies continue to thwart infrastructure investments

TORONTO, Ont. -- Despite all the good intentions at all levels of government to make amends for the past 20 years o...

TORONTO, Ont. — Despite all the good intentions at all levels of government to make amends for the past 20 years of infrastructure neglect, there remain important policy deficiencies and challenges.

The nature of the political process itself can prove a significant roadblock, partly because transportation policy can fall prey to short-term political thinking. For example, there is currently a private members bill that proposes banning replacement workers in rail strikes.

Such a bill may seem to ill-considered to make its way through the House of Commons but Kristine Burr, assistant deputy minister, policy, Transport Canada warned during a panel session at this weeks Transpo 07 conference that in a minority government situation, there are no assurances as to what might go through.

Another obstacle is the sometimes frustratingly slow progress of decision making. Every time a transportation bill dies on the order table because an election is called, the bureaucrats have to start the education process of the new minister from scratch. A perfect case in point: the amendments to the Canada Transportation Act that have been in limbo for years.

Its not surprising it has been seven years since the CTA review and still no amendments have been put in place. All I can tell tell you is we are as frustrated as you are, Burr said.

The obstacles to good transportation decision-making were made abundantly clear by Tom AppaRao, who as director of transportation planning for Peel has the difficult task of keeping up with a municipality where truck traffic during peak morning periods is growing at 7.2% annually.

AppaRao outlined six policy-related deficiencies:

1. Municipal/regional level policy and planning: Even though the first and last leg of every freight journey starts on a municipal road, there is a lack of sufficient recognition of the importance of municipal/regional level goods movement and related land use policy and planning; by the municipalities themselves, and by the industry and the senior levels of government, AppaRao said, adding this is made worse by a lack of lack of adequate data, know how and tools.
2. Big Picture Planning: Goods movement is one part of a bigger picture of transportation and land use. What happens in the rest of the system directly affects good movement, AppaRao argued.
We currently lack a clear, comprehensive sustainable transportation strategy for the GTA, or even a clear, common understanding of what it takes to make transportation sustainable, he said.
Further complicating matters is the fact that municipalities are experiencing rapid growth in passenger and commercial traffic, which exacerbates congestion, yet there are limited opportunities to provide more road capacity.
There are conflicting demands for road corridors: Trucks vs cars vs transit; we need to find ways to rationalize the use of corridors, AppaRao said.

3. Funding: There is a lack of adequate, sustainable, predictable sources of funding to implement the plans that are in place, Apparao complained.

4. Environmental Assessment Process: The EA processes for highways and transit are slow and cumbersome, causing excessive delays in protecting corridors and constructing the necessary transportation infrastructure
5. Know how: There is a lack of adequate data, tools, techniques and guidelines for municipal/regional goods movement planning.
6. Partnerships: Stronger, ongoing partnerships with the industry and senior levels of government are required to improve policies, plans and actions at the municipal level. Both AppaRao and OToole said there is currently not enough involvement from industry.

Transportation planning has to be done looking 30 years ahead to protect (trade) corridors. Any insights shippers and carriers can provide are helpful. We may not know what the problem is unless you tell us, AppaRao said.

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