09/23/2013 01:11 EDT

Canada's Transportation System Hampering Economy: Government Documents


If you’ve been noticing traffic jams getting worse, you’re not alone.

According to government documents obtained by Postmedia, Canada’s transportation infrastructure is falling behind the country’s growth and hampering innovation.

The documents hint that some privatization or tolling of roads could be in the country’s future.

The Transport Canada documents, presented after the 2011 election, estimated that Canadians spend about $10,000 on transportation annually, or about 14 per cent of a typical household budget. That’s more than Canadians spend on food, on average.

Traffic congestion is just one part of the picture, but recent data finds Canadian cities now racing ahead of the U.S. in terms of time spent in jams.

In a recent study by research firm TomTom, three Canadian cities ranked among the top 10 worst commutes in North America, with Vancouver just behind first-place Los Angeles:

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“As a trade-reliant economy with a small population spread over a vast landscape, a well-developed transportation is a critical element of national competitiveness,” the report stated.

Among the points made in the report:

— The transportation sector lacks co-ordinated strategies to promote innovation and technology.

— Too little public and private money is invested in new technology, despite eligibility in recent federal infrastructure programs.

— The transportation sector’s skills and research base is eroding. This is a growing concern for industry, which has identified a number of challenges, including attracting highly qualified personnel to the sector.

The Transport Canada report included a number of ideas on how to spur transportation infrastructure development, including “more innovative financing arrangements” such as partnering more frequently with private sector developers to develop infrastructure, and “user pay/tolling,” which could mean more paid roads like southern Ontario’s Highway 407.

The costs of developing infrastructure can be so high as to be a political minefield in many parts of the country.

Case in point: The extension of Toronto’s Danforth subway line into Scarborough will bring just three new subway stops online, but is estimated to cost $2.3 billion to $3 billion. The federal government just committed to $660 million in funding, following Ontario’s commitment of $1.4 billion earlier this month.

But that price could be worth it all the same: Recent estimates peg the cost of congestion in Toronto at around $6 billion annually.