Growing and maintaining vibrant and prosperous city regions doesn’t just happen. Successful regional planning means making taking steps such as identifying urban centres where population growth should and should not occur, solidifying transportation linkages, protecting and managing green space and investing in infrastructure such as roads and information technology. As a fast-growing region and the economic engine of Ontario and Canada, the GTA must be clear and confident in its strategic planning. We must approach our decisions in a way that supports:
- Clean water
- Clean air
- Green space
- Access to facilities such as schools, recreations centres and health-care facilities
- Adequate and flexible transportation choices
- Compact and affordable housing options
- A strong and diverse economy
- An attractive investment environment
The challenge of effective regional planning is exemplified by looking at our needs in the area of regional transportation, a specific focus of the Toronto City Summit Alliance.
The GTA is a hub for trucking and other transportation. We need excellent highways, local and regional roads, and rail and urban transit systems because good transportation systems are critical to our competitiveness and our quality of life. An effective transportation infrastructure is a major determinant of business location decisions. It can also prevent urban sprawl from gobbling up our countryside and farmland, improve our air quality and enhance preservation of our environment.
The problems facing our transportation system have escalated to the point where they threaten our economic efficiency and ability to compete with other urban regions. Our major freeway network is 70 per cent congested at peak periods. Gridlock alone costs the GTA $2 billion annually in lost productivity. Indeed, local businesses cited congestion as their number one worry in a recent Toronto Board of Trade survey. And it is the number one or two issue for residents of the regions making up the GTA, according to a recent Environics poll. The Central Ontario Smart Growth Panel’s recent discussion paper recommended an approach to unlocking gridlock that involves investment in transit, as well as transportation demand management, transit-supportive land use planning, and an integrated transportation network to move people and goods.
In March 2004, additional funding of $1billion over five years for the TTC was announced by all three levels of government. Similarly, in May 2004 it was announced that the three levels of government will share a $1 billion investment in GO Transit focusing on 12 projects across the rail system and on the expansion of the GO Bus network. These are important first steps but larger scale investment is needed. The province of Ontario has announced at 10-year $9 billion investment plan focusing on inter-regional transport, urban fleet renewal and renewed provincial responsibility for financing and operating GO Transit.
Although our region has 15 local transit providers, we have no regional transportation planning or coordinating body. Urban regions throughout North America, including Vancouver and Montreal, have successfully implemented regional transportation authorities.
A regional transportation for the GTA-Hamilton area should be established with:
- Explicit, legislated authority to plan and fund capital investment in transportation infrastructure and associated short-term operating step-ups in the region.
- Authority over planning in an integrated manner for major arterial roads, including the 400 series highways and major transit systems expansions – working with existing operators.
- Access to new, adequate, stable and predictable funding sources. These should include infrastructure funds from senior governments and the right to levy fuel taxes and potentially road tolls and user fees. The equivalent of 3 cents per litre per year of fuel tax would generate $150 million in new funding alone.
- A commitment to smart growth principles.
Establishment of a new Regional Transportation Authority should result in substantial net new money for public transit in the region. The Authority must have access to its own funding sources to be a credible lead partner in planning the regional infrastructure. However, provincial and federal infrastructure funding will still be required for major capital projects.
The trade union members of the TCSA are in agreement that region-wide transportation planning is important and that new incremental funding of transit is essential. However, they do not support the creation of a Regional Transportation Authority at this time out of concern that the governance of such an authority might result in a bias away from public transit and support to the TTC. (The TCSA would only support a Regional Authority that was designed and implemented in such a way as to increase funding to transit and the TTC.) There is also a concern on their part that such an authority could open the door to more private sector involvement in transit, which they oppose.