Most people don’t give a lot of thought to what it takes for them to get to their destination every day. Restrict their ability to travel freely, however, and it’s a different story. Reliable transportation and infrastructure is important for education, health care and social interaction. It is a part of our everyday lives.
There’s an old saying: “It takes a village to raise a child.” The same concept applies to the growth of our population and its impact on our municipalities and their infrastructure. Provincial and federal programs must support the development of core and essential infrastructure such as roads, water and sewage facilities, land drainage facilities, solid waste facilities, transit, parks and buildings.
Constrained by other levels of government, municipalities face difficult decisions on how to spend their limited funds, and are hesitant to raise property taxes for infrastructure. Decades of reduced investment has created a backlog of maintenance and repair work required to get our roads back to their intended design life. Now more than ever, we need national and provincial programs paired with public policy commitment to designate funds to infrastructure investment.
Growing communities need to focus on the construction of new assets such as roads, water/sewage systems, schools, and hospitals. They also need to repair and replace their existing infrastructure, often to keep up with the demands of a growing population. For example, municipalities will have to invest millions over the next decade to ensure their water systems meet the new federal wastewater regulations. Some estimates peg the cost at upwards of $5 billion.
Taking a disciplined approach to determining infrastructure priorities provides governments and industry with the direction they need. A unified direction allows us to hire the right personnel, purchase the right equipment and invest in the right markets to best serve the needs of governments with their infrastructure procurements. Governments should engage with the private investment community and find out what types of policy changes would create more interest in partnering with government.
We also need a long-term vision for infrastructure. Cyclical capital programs can cost taxpayers more. Long-term capital plans can mean lower prices for infrastructure construction, as it provides construction firms with certainty for their personnel and capital purchase. Early tendering of projects is crucial to keep project bidding competitive and lower their procurement costs. Tendering projects during periods of lower demand (over the winter months) would likely yield better infrastructure pricing and allow the industry to begin work as soon as the ground conditions permit.
It’s time for government to look at the infrastructure deficit as an opportunity and not as a problem we may never solve. Contractors and communities have the chance to innovate and build more sustainable roads, waterworks systems and bridges. We can’t keep funding our infrastructure through traditional means; it’s simply no longer working. It is time government did things differently!
President, Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association