It would cost more than $1 billion to get Greater Sudbury’s roads up to an acceptable level over the next 10 years, city councillors were told at a July 10 meeting.
Catching up would require more than doubling the $35 million currently spent on roads every year, increasing that amount to $75 million. The current accumulated deficit — the amount needed to bring existing roads up to standard — stands at $700 million.
Capital spending over the next five years should total another $480 million to avoid falling further behind, while another $90 million is required over the next 10 years to maintain the roads we already have.
“I’m sure, ladies and gentlemen, this doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone on council,” said Oscar Poloni, of the accounting firm KPMG, which produced the 10-year plan. “And the truth is, you don’t have $700 million to finance your capital needs.”
Poloni outlined a bleak overview of the current state of the 3,600 kilometres of roads in the city. If laid straight, it would be long enough to drive to El Paso, Tex., he said. The strain of trying to maintain such a huge roads network in a sparsely-populated city is showing.
According to the Pavement Condition Index, an industry standard for evaluating the condition of roads, 45 per cent of city roads require immediate attention to bring them up to standard. In fact, only one per cent of roads in Sudbury don’t require any work.
“And there are other roads projects, from a growth perspective, that have to be financed, as well,” Poloni said, citing such plans as the $115-million Maley Drive extension, $35 million for widening Municipal Road 35 from Azilda to Chelmsford, and realigning The Kingsway, estimated at $25 million.
Assuming federal and provincial grants aren’t found to help pay for the needed work, city taxes would have to increase between 3.3 per cent and 3.5 per cent every year for the next 10 years, and that’s just for roads.
That would translate into increased roads spending of about $6.2 million every year for the next decade. And even that amount doesn’t include increased costs for other budgets, such as water and waste water, where a similar spending deficit exists.
The sobering numbers weren’t surprising to councillors, but they did put into perspective the challenge they’re facing.
“We fully understand that we have to spend more money on roads,” said Ward 1 Coun. Joe Cimino, who described the presentation as a “reality check.
“How we get there is for us around the table to determine.”
Ward 3 Coun. Claude Berthiaume said councillors will have to find new ways to fund the work, and wondered aloud if it would be worth looking at borrowing money to pay for at least part of the work.
“Would it pay off to borrow some of the money?” he asked.
Poloni replied that the KPMG report includes options for borrowing money to pay for projects such as Maley Drive, if council wants to consider going that route.
He also praised staff for working out agreements with local mining companies to help pay for some infrastructure work, a recognition of the fact that heavy trucks hauling ore damage area roads.
Poloni also suggested that with the robust economic growth projections in the coming years, the prospect of increased revenue from new housing and other projects mean the city has an opportunity to increase its tax base.
Councillors could decide to direct that new revenue to the roads budget, he said.
“It’s a bit of carpe diem thinking,” he said. “But if you’ve got it, use it.”
Ward 7 Coun. Dave Kilgour said the report is “a defining moment for this council.”
He said new streams of revenue have to be found that don’t involve raising local taxes.
He cited an unsuccessful effort to convince the federal government to increase the HST by one per cent and giving the revenue to municipalities, which would have generated an additional $43 million in revenue for Greater Sudbury every year. That sort of reliable revenue stream is what’s needed, he said.
“We’ve got to find a way to make (our roads system) sustainable,” Kilgour said. “That’s what we’re missing out on.”
The city has to unite behind such efforts to convince higher levels of government to give municipalities that reliable revenue stream, he said.
“Or we’ll be in dire trouble.”
In a press release issued after the meeting, Mayor Marianne Matichuk echoed Kilgour’s call for a new source of revenue.
“This report is an important and timely review of the challenges this council faces,” Matichuk said. “While council has set its priorities, this report points to the need for dedicated, sustainable funding from other levels of government so we can meet these challenges.”
Posted by Arron Pickard