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Beware the magic infrastructure bullet

Beware the magic infrastructure bullet


January 2, 2009
By Andy Bateman

Accelerated infrastructure spending on roads and public transit is an effective way to ease the effects of the worldwide credit crisis.

In a rare display of unanimity, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the country’s Premiers recently agreed that accelerated infrastructure spending on roads and public transit is an effective way to ease the effects of the worldwide credit crisis. Infrastructure spending may indeed be the silver lining in today’s cloudy situation, but there does appear to be some risk of the magic bullet syndrome – the pursuit of a single major project that will solve everything. Today’s magic bullet is a $25 billion, 1150 km long  high speed rail link between Windsor and Québec City through Canada’s most heavily populated corridor. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Quebec Premier Jean Charest are understandably strong supporters of the project. However, the warning signs are already there, with Harper waiting to see the results of yet another study on a project whose case was not previously compelling.

Proponents of the rail link will likely stress its environmental benefits and are probably right about the energy and emissions benefits of rail versus road. However, if we really are serious about exploiting the environmental advantages of rail systems, perhaps the focus should be on opportunities at the local level rather than exotic inter-city solutions. Look no further than Canada’s biggest airport, where incredulous international visitors discover that we have somehow still not managed to provide a passenger rail service, rapid or otherwise, connecting Lester B. Pearson Airport with downtown Toronto. At 30km or so, such a link would be just 3 per cent of the length of the proposed Quebec Ontario link. 

Readers of this magazine will need no convincing of the economic benefits of investment in road infrastructure, both short term during construction and long term throughout a road’s service life. Moreover, spending on roads and bridges can be geographically diverse and geared to the needs of every province By all means, let’s implement infrastructure projects for the benefit of all, but let’s also dodge the magic bullet on the way.       

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