Montreal’s $4.1 billion Three-Year Capital Plan (TYCP) will continue to emphasize rehabilitation of the city’s deteriorating infrastructure over development of new initiatives, with 75 per cent of the budget dedicated to maintenance and renovation.
The TYCP is released each year and outlines the city’s capital improvement projects for the next three years.
Approximately sixty per cent of the 2013-2015 TYCP is dedicated to water and roads, with $1.4 billion allocated to the city’s water and sewage systems and $1.1 billion to be put toward modernizing transportation infrastructure.
Taxpayers will be responsible for financing approximately 47 per cent of the TYCP. At a public consultation of the TYCP held by the city’s Finance and Administration Committee on September 11, one anxious Mile-End resident asked about the tax burden. City councillor Michael Applebaum replied in French that, although particular attention was given to the individual taxpayer’s ability to contribute, “exceptional efforts” would be required of the public to tackle aging infrastructure.
Two days later, La Presse leaked the city’s 2013 operating budget, revealing a 3.4 per cent tax hike – one-third of which will go directly to a fund established explicitly to finance the rehabilitation of the city’s water production and distribution systems.
Infrastructure in Montreal and Canada
A report released last week by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) stated that about thirty per cent of Canadian municipal infrastructure is in a “fair” to “very poor” condition, with replacement and repair costs totaling roughly $171.8 billion.
In late August, Le Devoir reported that the number of tunnels and bridges in critical condition in Montreal had jumped from 12 in 2011 to 27 in 2012, according to city inspections initiated after the 2011 collapse of a 25-tonne beam in the Viger tunnel.
According to the TYCP, $44 million will be spent on bridge, tunnel, and overpass upkeep and development in 2013 – a number significantly lower than the $61 million Mayor Gérald Tremblay had previously announced.
McGill Civil Engineering professor emeritus Saeed Mirza told The Daily that three factors contribute to the critical state of Montreal infrastructure: poor construction, little investment in maintenance, and sheer age.
According to the FCM report, only about 15 per cent of Canadian drinking water infrastructure requires attention. In Montreal, on the other hand, “in some parts of [the city], we are losing between thirty to forty per cent of our purified water because of pipe leaks,” Mirza told The Daily.
More money is needed
“The previous generation did not spend the money that it needed to on maintenance, and I give Mayor Tremblay a lot of credit… but we need a lot more,” said Mirza.
The city estimates that despite the current TYCP, an additional annual investment of $700 million will be necessary to fully renovate existing municipal infrastructure and has asked the federal and provincial governments to help meet these needs.
Mirza said he is doubtful that Quebec will come through.
“In the end, it’s going to have to be the user that pays,” he said. “[At the provincial level] infrastructure competes with education, it competes with health.”
Criticisms from Projet Montréal
Since its foundation in 2004, Projet Montréal – one of the city’s three municipal parties – has advocated for better initiatives in sustainability and public transport.
“We think this is a continuation of what the Tremblay administration has always been doing […] and that the Three-Year plan does nothing to help bring Montreal into the 21st century,” said Peter McQueen, Projet Montréal’s city councillor for the Côtes-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough.
“It offers nothing in terms of new transport initiatives for residents,” he said.
McQueen and Projet Montréal also object to the fact that five per cent of the TYCP – representing over $206 million – is earmarked for a collection of cultural heritage projects in honour of Montreal’s 375th anniversary. Of that $206 million, $110 million will go to the Société du Parc Jean Drapeau, a paramunicipal body that runs Parc Jean-Drapeau and, according to McQueen, does not answer directly to the city.
… and from Westmount
This year’s TYCP was released in September – earlier than previous years – in order to facilitate project planning.
Finance and Administration Committee Vice President and Westmount Mayor Peter Trent said he believes this is a good idea, but that problems arise because this means that the TYCP is approved before the city’s operating budget. During a public consultation held on September 13, he attempted to pass recommendations to halt the adoption of parts of the TYCP until the operating budget had been examined, but failed to receive support from majority party Union Montréal.
“I suspect that it has something to do with the partisan project,” explained Trent. “You know, in Westmount, the city councillors all run as independents. In Montreal, there are three political parties – and they’re just always at each other’s throats.”
The TCYP will be officially adopted by the Agglomeration Council on September 21.
—with files from Dana Wray and Waseem Haja