Planes, trains & automobiles

You know what I find interesting? Canada’s21st century approach to transportation infrastructure development. In the 19th Century, the government of Canada spent a massive amount of money to plow a railroad though a barren waste land – in an attempt to develop the economy of the west. They also spent the equivalent of billions of dollars to develop the ocean shipping system down the St. Lawrence River (bypassing Atlantic Canada – but that’s subject matter for a potential future blog).

Essentially, governments realized that transportation infrastructure was an integral tool for regional development.

Fast forward to 2005.

Now to get a highway twinned, you need to meet a certain vehicle volume threshold. Peak traffic times need to pass a certain standard. In addition, the funds have to be there in an era of ever shrinking investments into transportation infrastructure. The exact same logic applies to roads, rail and ports.

Essentially, now, the view on transportation infrastructure is totally reactive. Instead of “if you build it, they will come”, it’s “we won’t build it until it is absolutely necessary and even at that…”.

When it comes to a place like New Brunswick, this is ridiculous. One of the most important considerations that a business makes when it looks at a place to set up a factory or office is the transportation infrastructure. How many daily international flights from your airport? Is your main highway entirely four-lane through to our major markets? Do all your industrial park lots have rail access?

If we were smart, we would use transportation infrastructure as a tool to drive (no pun intended) economic development. Have at least one airport with decent international flights (and build a publicly subsized shuttle bus service that brings people to and from this airport just like they do in Greater Toronto. Build a four-lane highway up around the top of New Brunswick – open those areas up for development (by the way, this would cost about the same as one year of Employment Insurance payouts in New Brunswick). Extend rail infrastructure where it makes sense – not after the fact – but before the fact – in anticipation of economic development.