COLUMN: Ontario’s infrastructure insanity

Ontario is broke. We know this from all of the financial reports that Ontario has the highest sub-soverign debt in the world. Every year the province goes into hock further and further to deal with billions in deficits. This is established fact and now the government is selling assets like a college student pawning CD’s to pay next month’s rent. Ontario is also broken.

The bridge in Nipigon, Ontario, carries the country’s east-west highway traffic on highways 11 and 17. There is only one two-lane road and one two-lane bridge that does this. On Sunday, the bridge suffered a “mechanical failure”, which is a technical phrase meaning it’s broken. One can say this as bridges are not designed to be usable when there is 60 centimeters of height difference between the two halves of the deck.

The bridge was replaced with a new span, and a second identical span is to be completed in 2017. Talk about redundancy for the future. How could the provincial brain-trust not have thought about having a second bridge crossing the river, or a second road crossing the river in another location before now?

It is amazing that no one could think of this already. A brand new bridge, built to replace one that worked for 75-ish years, lasts just three months. Could the provincial brain-trust have kept the old bridge a little longer just in case?

The government’s response is to send the cabinet minister who is responsible for northern Ontario to go and personally inspect the bridge. What is the minister going to do? Hold the two broken pieces of bridge together while Red Green comes with a big roll of duct tape?

The sudden realization by politicians that this is a choke point in not just Ontario’s infrastructure but Canada’s is a clear mark of this insanity. That we as a province and a country have only one road that connects the eastern half of the country to the west shows how Toronto-centrist transportation and infrastructure policies have failed the rest of the province.

For too long the Liberal overlords at Queen’s Park have focused on more lanes and commuter rail for Toronto, neglecting other critical routes. With this being 2016, not having a freeway connecting Manitoba to the 400-series highway system is insanity. Having only one road to connect eastern and western Canada is insanity. 100 years ago the country promoted and supported not one but two competitors to the sole transcontinental railroad in the country. The leadership at the time saw the value and security in having more routes criss-crossing the land. Now infrastructure is used as the ultimate vote-buying initiative.

What the province and the country has a whole must come up with is an infrastructure plan that is affordable, smart and has the most benefit over all. Infrastructure spending cannot be targeted into vote rich urban areas forgetting rural and northern regions of the country. Infrastructure cannot be part of a riding-based favouritism that all parties for the last 60 years have used to coax votes and support.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. If the province maintains its current Toronto-centrist, urban-centrist infrastructure policies, expect more incidents like Nipigon to occur.