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Infrastructures: expensive projects await l’Ontario

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Climate change will increase costs simply for maintaining infrastructure.

  • Jean-François Gérard (View profile)Jean-François Gérard

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Bridges, roads, public transportation, nuclear power plants… Ontario faces a significant need to renew its infrastructure for which financing has yet to be found. The Gardiner Expressway, the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station, Toronto Subway Line 2 and the Manitoulin Island Bridge are four iconic examples.

Ontario's Financial Accountability Office (FAO) estimates the value of Ontario's public infrastructure in good condition at $708 billion.

In its November 2023 report, the BRF projects that without adaptation measures, climate change-related hazards will add an average of $4.1 billion per year to maintenance costs.

With a proactive scenario, this additional cost would then drop to 3 billion. Clearly, the sooner the infrastructure is renovated, the less the annual additional cost.

But the maintenance of existing structures is not always the most attractive to policymakers, notes Brian Lewis, Ontario's chief economist until 2022.

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There is always more excitement generated by an announcement of novelty, he explains.

On the contrary, the upgrade can even generate negative reactions and raise questions about the reasons for the repair and the state of infrastructure.

Matti Siemiatycki, director of the Infrastructure Institute and professor of geography and urban planning at the University of Toronto, adds that maintenance is often a place where budget cuts are made, because in the short term it seems to produce savings without much impact.

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The condition of the Gardiner is deteriorating and destruction-reconstruction is planned. (File photo)

The Gardiner Expressway is showing its age. The 18-kilometer expressway completed in 1966 is due for major renovations.

In November, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow signed an agreement providing $1.2 billion over three years to address chronic budget problems in the Queen City, including support for the Gardiner and Don Valley Expressways (DVP)

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The Gardiner Expressway overlooking Lake Shore Boulevard in downtown Toronto is pictured on November 30, 2023.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">The province must pay more than 200 million to the City in 2024, then 150 million the following year, pending official support from Gardiner; not enough to proceed with the reconstruction, but more than the simple maintenance of 16 million dollars annually.

In its 2023-2032 investment forecasts, the City planned $1.9 billion to rebuild a portion of the Gardiner and, more anecdotally, $33.2 million to devote to the DVP. The agreement document specifies that costs for Gardiner could be up to $6.5 billion.

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Infrastructure specialist Matti Siemiatycki believes that underinvestment in maintenance in Canada is affecting several public services, including community centers and hospitals. (Archive photo)

For Matti Siemiatycki, the Gardiner is an emblematic case of the lack of interest in maintenance work. It’s less glamorous, it’s laborious, it’s expensive and disturbing. But sooner or later the bill arrives.

We saw bits of the Gardiner falling from the sky because the concrete got so old

A quote from Matti Siemiatycki, director of the Infrastructure Institute and professor of geography and urban planning at the University of Toronto

While the Pickering nuclear power plant, the oldest in operation in the country, was scheduled to close in 2024, the Ontario government chose in 2022 to extend its lifespan. And above all to ask Ontario Power Generation (OPG) to study the possibility of refurbishing it to extend its lifespan by several decades.

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The Pickering Nuclear Generating Station in Ontario provides approximately 14% of the province's electricity needs.

OPG indicates that it has submitted a feasibility study to the government which will decide what happens next. The company indicates that it is premature to talk about a date or budget. Please note that OPG is 100% owned by the provincial government.

The process, which would concern four of the six active reactors, is not new.

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In July, the Ford government announced the construction of three new small modular reactors on the grounds of the Darlington nuclear power plant. (File photo)

OPG is currently upgrading the Darlington generating station. An investment started in 2016 and then valued at $12.8 billion. Two reactors have been completely renovated and the other two are under construction for delivery in 2025 and 2026.

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Keele metro station, on line 2.< /p>

The 55 trains on line two 2 are at the end of their life. Some of them have been in circulation for 27 years. Their condition has become a safety issue, particularly after the derailment of a train on line 3 in July.

This incident which ended prematurely at line 3 made people realize how important it is to have well-maintained infrastructure, according to Mr. Siemiatycki.

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Stuart Green, spokesperson for the Toronto Transportation Commission, says his company needs external cash to maintain the network. (Archive photo)

In addition, they are no longer compatible with the automated system planned for the extension to Scarborough.

We need 80 trains in total at a cost of $2.5 billion, including 55 for Line 2, Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) spokesperson Stuart Green said in October while indicating that the company can't afford to replace them.

For Matti Siemiatycki, it's partly a matter of managing his assets and partly just a question of liquidity, and the question of whether these organizations have the means. He adds that the CTT has decades of maintenance arrears that it is trying to catch up on.

Toronto subway line 2 cars are reaching the end of their life. (File photo)

The City of Toronto has committed to funding a third, with $800 million. The second third appears to be in the very recent agreement with the province.

The agreement provides for the provincial government to finance $758 million for and take advantage of the operation to order 15 additional trainsets for the extensions from the subway to Scarborough and Yonge North.

This provincial funding is nevertheless fragile, because it is conditional on the federal government matching the same amount.

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The Little Current Swing Bridge is the only land link to Manitoulin Island.

Only link between Manitoulin Island and the On land in Northern Ontario, the Little Current Swing Bridge needs to be replaced.

In 2021, the solution chosen is the construction of a second swing bridge, parallel to the current structure. It will be wider, with two lanes and not just one. Other ideas such as a tunnel were ruled out.

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The new swing bridge would be built just west of the current bridge.

Certain steps are taken such as planning, design and environmental assessment. The province must still manage the purchase of land, rights of way and above all, and above all, its exact design. She has not yet provided a timeline and cost. The current bridge must then be dismantled.

Generally speaking, Brian Lewis recalls that infrastructure maintenance is a quicker lever for relaunching the economy.

If a government wants to create jobs through infrastructure, for example in a recession, maintenance goes faster than new projects.

A quote from Brian Lewis, former Chief Economist of Ontario

Even if there are maintenance budgets planned each year, the economist explains that planning is sometimes hazardous. The government has a three-year financial plan. Beyond that, there are no detailed forecasts. Which can be a problem planning for maintenance at 10 or 15 years.

According to the Financial Accountability Office, municipalities will assume the of climate-related infrastructure costs, accounting for 70% of them.

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