It’s that time of year again, when the snow and ice peels back to reveal roads that tell a sad story of harsh winters, wear and tear, and in many cases pure neglect.
As much as we all complain about potholes, they aren’t actually our biggest issue. The telltale pits in our roads are merely a symptom of a much larger problem with our aging transportation infrastructure network.
A recently convened group of transportation infrastructure specialists is seeking to bring about much-needed change in how we build, maintain and operate our roads. Recognizing the looming infrastructure deficit with our province’s roads and highways, the Alberta Roadbuilders and Heavy Construction Association (ARHCA) formed an Advisory Panel in late 2018.
This timely initiative brought together knowledgeable public and private sector representatives with a shared purpose. Their goal was to develop a set of policy recommendations that would improve our transportation infrastructure outlook because right now, according to Stats Canada, we are failing the grade.
At 15.6 per cent, Alberta is leading the way in Canada with the largest percentage of highways in “very poor” condition. Equally alarming is the fact that 75 per cent of Alberta highway bridges are in fair condition or worse, and more than half of all rural roads are also in fair to poor condition. With the population predicted to reach 6.4 million by 2046, things will only get worse unless someone makes a move – now.
That’s why the ARHCA Advisory Panel put forward recommendations to modernize Alberta’s approach to transportation governance and accountability. The panel had three clear priorities that should be on our collective radar – a need for better preservation of our roads, a much more effective and transparent public infrastructure agency to get best value for tax dollars. To view the panel’s full set of recommendations, visit drivingimprovement.ca.
First and foremost, our reliance on deferring repairs to the existing road network is not sustainable. Responsible asset managers know that constant upkeep requires an annual commitment in dollar terms of one to two per cent of asset value. Failure to make that investment leaves Albertans with a fiscal ticking time bomb. The cost of reconstruction is five times the cost of preservation on an average kilometre of highway.
Over the past several years we have seen a steady decline in provincial road maintenance and rehabilitation. Unfortunately, at a time when we should be investing in our roads the province has reduced its commitment to planned road and bridge maintenance and renewal by 29 per cent. The continued degradation of our road network will ultimately put pressure on future capital budgets to address these short-sighted decisions.
At a minimum Alberta needs to invest between $700 million to $1.4 billion annually in basic preservation of our roads – more than double the current level of investment. Only a long-term binding commitment to start taking action now will slow the degradation of our highway network. As government takes on the fiscal and economic challenges that face the province, Albertans must be aware that this time the highway network has no capacity to defer repairs. The strategies of the past won’t work this time.
CEO of Alberta Roadbuilders
and Heavy Construction Association