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A “Perfect Storm” of Infrastructure Failure

Here is a PowerPoint presentation that was given at a conference back in October on Saskatoon’s growing infrastructure deficit by Saskatoon Finance manager Kerry Tarasoff.  As you can read from the report, Saskatoon is underfunding its critical infrastructure every year until we are at a point that one slide describes as a “perfect storm” where we have aging under maintained infrastructure and needs for massive capital investment in Saskatoon’s growth.  I am trying to figure out how a “perfect storm” is used as a positive thing…

Of course don’t take her words for it, take a look at the committee notes to the Administration and Finance Committee and read the part about bridges and roads.  Bridges need an increase of $4.5 million dollars a year (we pay $500k right now) and roads need around $25 million a year.

At the current level of funding, bridges start to collapse in the next two decades and if the City of Saskatoon knows one thing, it is bridge failure.  According to the report under current funding levels.

Under this option, the current annual base contribution to the Major Bridge Repair Reserve of $520,000 per year would be maintained. This level of service is insufficient
to accommodate the 20-year major preservation plan. Structures will need to be closed as deck failures occur, with major closures projected as follows:

  • Idylwyld Drive Over Ruth Street Overpass (2025);
  • Idylwyld Drive Northbound/Southbound Over 19th Street Overpass (2025);
  • Spadina Crescent Bridge (2029);
  • Circle Drive Northbound Over 14th Street Overpass (2029);
  • 108th Street Over Circle Drive Overpass (2030);
  • Idylwyld Drive Northbound Over 19th Street to 1st Avenue Overpass (2030);
  • University Bridge (2031); and
  • Sid Buckwold Bridge (2032).

Full deck replacements would be required before these structures could be reopened. The estimated cost of necessary deck replacements for these structures is estimated to be $151.4 million. This value does not include additional work required to the remainder of the bridge inventory.

The city administration is asking for involves both fixing and taking proactive maintenance to save us money down the line.  To start with, we need to start investing $5 million dollars a year (up from the current $500k a year) to our bridge infrastructure fund.  According to the report

Under this option, the 20-year major preservation program, recommended in the State of the Bridges and Structures 2012 Report, would be followed. The current annual contribution to the Major Bridge Repair Reserve would increase, however, a mix of onetime contributions and borrowing would be required to make up the budget shortfall to ensure that the reserve does not go into a deficit position at any time. If the annual contribution were to be increased to $5 million in 2013, with an annual increase equal to annual inflation, one-time contributions would be required to support the following anticipated additional spending:

  • $19.2 million in 2013;
  • $7.8 million in 2018; and
  • $20.9 million in 2023.

So now lets move onto roads

Option 1 – Status Quo (Level of Service “E”)

This option would keep the annual investment in paved roadways at the same level as in 2012, which was $9.5 million. The current backlog will grow and the overall condition of the network will deteriorate. The 2012 funding was made of $6.0 million of base funding from General Reserves and $3.5 million of one-time Neighbourhood Land Development funding.

Notice that the current funding level means that our roads will get worse.

Option 2 – Maintain Assets in Very Poor Condition (Level of Service “D”)

This option would require an annual investment of $15 million. The streets in the worst condition would be given a higher treatment priority than in Option 1. Annual investment opportunities will be missed, as some roadways will still degrade from the “Preservation” to “Restoration” category; and from the “Restoration” to the “Rehabilitation” category. As they move through each category, treatments become more costly, with rehabilitation being the most expensive.

I love the fact that we need a massive increase in investment to get our roads to “Very Poor Condition”.

Option 3 – Maintain the Current Backlog (Level of Service “C”)

This option would require an annual investment of $20 million. The current backlog and network condition will remain as at the end of 2012.

Again, the status quo to keep our roads the way they are would require double the investment that we fund now.

Option 4 – Improve Average Condition and Eliminate Backlog in the Future (Level of Service “B”)

This option would require an annual investment of $25 million. The average condition of the roadway network will be better than it is today, and the backlog will be reduced. A level of service “A” is ideal for all assets, as it is the least long term cost to the City. However, it will take several years to eliminate the backlog of very poor streets, and until that occurs, it is not achievable. Funding this level of service would also require a significant increase that would be difficult to achieve.

The City of Edmonton was able to significantly increase their roadway funding in 2008, with the introduction of the Neighbourhood Renewal Program, a dedicated and permanent tax levy for roads, sidewalks and street lights. In addition, Edmonton receives more provincial funding than Saskatoon, they utilize local improvement programs, and they pay approximately three times more per capita in taxation for roads than in Saskatoon. For example, in 2011, the average Edmonton household paid approximately $22 per month for roadways, while in Saskatoon, the average household paid approximately $6 per month. This value was calculated using 2011 roadway funding for each city, divided by the estimated number of households. In 2012, Edmonton’s tax increased by 5.39%, and 72% of the increase was dedicated to their Neighbourhood Renewal Program.

It is the Administration’s opinion that Option 4 is the desirable level of service target. This option will result in an improvement of the average condition of the roadway network and a reduction to the roadway backlog. If immediately achieved, Option 4 would result in an increase of $15.529 million in investment above the allocated 2012 roadway preservation budget.

The treatment of paved roadways is funded from the Infrastructure Surface Reserve with the following capital projects:

  • 0835 – Collector Road Preservation;
  • 0836 – Arterial Road Preservation;
  • 1531 – Local Road Preservation;
  • 1890 – Expressway Road Preservation; and
  • 2249 – Street Reconstruction.

The Infrastructure Surface Reserve is 100% mill rate funded, and includes additional capital projects for transportation, sidewalks, curbs, and back lanes.  The Administration is recommending that the Committee forward this report to City Council, recommending that the level of service target for the preservation of roadways be established as Level ‘B’, with an annual investment of $25 million.

So we need around $25 million for roads and at least $5 million more for bridges each year.  The police said last year that they will be back for more officers, leisure services needs more money, and that doesn’t even touch the bad job that we with snow removal.

Of course before we get complaining how much taxes that this will cost us, we need to remember how low our mill rate is compared to all other cities in Canada.  The idea that we are overtaxed is a myth.  We pay less in school and property taxes than many municipalities pay in just property taxes so we have some room to grow before we are uncompetitive with other jurisdictions.

What strikes me as interesting is that while the roads and bridges reports came out after the election, the Mayor and council were using some of these numbers before the campaign.  The “natural advantage” of incumbency I guess. 

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