"Sinkhole from Hell" Overshadows Report Card's Message
Yesterday was the release of Canada’s first infrastructure report card in Ottawa. It may not have gotten nearly as much media attention were it not for a giant sinkhole that opened up on Ottawa’s Highway 174 that same morning. As one reporter so eloquently put it: You’ll probably care about this infrastructure report card because of the sinkhole from hell.
While this reporter failed to note that it wasn’t the road that needed maintenance but the sewer pipes beneath the road (a pipe collapse cause the hole), he is right about one thing: infrastructure rarely makes the news for being well maintained and operated. His misinformed assumption that the road needs repair also shows how easy it is to forget about subsurface infrastructure, or defer maintenance on any infrastructure that’s not causing immediate issues.
During a P3 panel I moderated yesterday at the National Infrastructure Summit in Regina, Winnipeg Mayor, Sam Katz, an advocate of P3s, said a major benefit of the model is that the private sector will ensure the asset is well maintained over the life of the contract (typically 25 to 30 years) because it’s in its best interest to do so. I would argue that a solid asset management plan at the municipal level would do the same.
During an update on the Municipal Infrastructure Forum yesterday (the group formed to generate consensus among municipalities leading up to the new federal long-term infrastructure plan), co-chair and Regina Mayor, Pat Fiacco, said operations budgets are often poached to fill gaps in capital budgets. “Any long-term plan must account for both new and existing infrastructure,” he said.
As it stands, Fiacco said if municipalities were retailers, the way they manage their inventory would put them out of business. “In an open market, municipalities in this country would all be broke,” said Fiacco.
While documents like the report card are meant to alert upper tier governments, as well as the public, to the fact that infrastructure is in poor shape and needs to be maintained, the message that tends to ring loudest is that our cities are crumbling and more apocalyptic sinkholes are in our future. The real message–one that, incidentally, the report card’s executive summary does lean on–is that consistent investment is needed to maintain all of our municipal infrastructure and avoid incident’s like Monday’s “sinkhole from hell.”
Photo Source: www.openfile.ca