A Statistics Canada survey of the country’s road infrastructure has confirmed what Quebecers have known all along: a good chunk of the province’s road network remains in a pitiful state.
The agency’s first nationwide public infrastructure survey, released last week, included an inventory of publicly owned road assets by province.
When it comes to highways, main arteries, collector roads and local roads, Quebec respondents in the survey were more inclined than their counterparts elsewhere in Canada to answer “poor” or “very poor” when asked to assess the quality of roads in the province.
The one exception was Nova Scotia, where disenchantment was higher in most categories.
The 2016 study, conducted jointly with Infrastructure Canada, surveyed 1,500 municipal and provincial organizations across the country.
For the purposes of the study, “very poor” meant the roadway was near or beyond the end of its service life and may be unusablem, while “poor” suggested it was nearing the end of its shelf life or showing signs of deterioration.
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The crumbly roadways made for Quebec election campaign fodder on Tuesday as party leaders dumped on the incumbent Liberals.
“For many years, the costs were inflated 30 per cent because of collusion and corruption, so we got less for our money,” said Coalition Avenir Québec Leader Francois Legault.
“On top of that, I believe there was poor management and poor planning and we find ourselves in a situation, when we look at our roads, that is the result of 15 years of Liberal rule. It’s not a good track record.”
“So are we still paying the price for the poor quality (of people) who defrauded the state for decades?” Lisée asked. “It’s one possible explanation. But the study’s findings are really disappointing, given the amount of money we spend on the road network every year.”
The StatCan numbers mimic a provincial public infrastructure report last March that suggested nearly one-half of the 31,000 kilometres of roads in the province’s network were in poor shape and would need a $15 billion infusion to fix.
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Nationally, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has set the price for eliminating the national infrastructure defecit at $123 billion.
The Conference Board of Canada has done some “fact-based encouragement” previously about a lack of investment in infrastructure, said Pedro Antunes, deputy chief economist.
Investments have risen in recent years, but not by enough.
“The biggest concern was in the early 2000s when we had a lot of assets that were deteriorating because they’d been built 30 and 40 years prior,” Antunes said.
“Governments are typical of this. They are very good at investing in an asset and building as asset, but it’s the maintenance and investing in repair and renovation that tend to be ignored.”
Quebec Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard responded Tuesday it is not all doom and gloom and that the province has committed billions of dollars to roads.
“You have probably noticed that the same report shows there’s been a very considerable progression in the number of roads in Quebec that are in good condition,” Couillard said.
“I think it’s 17 percentage points higher than in 2014. That’s good news but is it good? No. We have to do more. A lot of our roads are not in good condition. But we’ve never made as much progress as in recent years.”
Statistics Canada said it plans to release other figures on infrastructure assets in the coming months and hopes to repeat the survey this year.
The 2016 figures said Canada’s road network was long enough to circle the Earth’s equator 19 times.
Nearly one-half of roads were located in Ontario and Alberta, with the two provinces accounting for just under a quarter of the country’s road network.
Also, a little more than 22 per cent of roads had been built since 2000.