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Revenue shortfall may affect roads budget in 2018

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

Regional staff have proposed over $85 million in transportation capital spending for 2018, but a shortfall in development charges could put some projects at risk.

Ramesh Jagannathan, director of transportation and field services, and Mary Simpson, director of financial planning and purchasing, laid out the laundry list of capital items to regional council at the Nov. 1 meeting.

However, Simpson was forthright about the possible consequences of lower than expected revenue from regional development charge receipts this year.

Development charges have been identified as a source of $36.4 million in funding for projects in the proposed capital budget.

“The summer months have been surprisingly low,” Simpson told councillors. “The position we find ourselves in now is we need 500 units per month [in November and December] to meet the target of 4,400 units.”

Simpson told The Oshawa Express the issue isn’t the number of units being built, but delays in the region receiving the development charge receipts in hand. Simpson said the proposed transportation budget was designed with the risk of development charge shortfalls in mind, but regional chair Roger Anderson wanted more detail on how projects could effected.

“I’m going to assume we’re not going to get 1,000 applications in the next 59 days. You’ve got to make it simple or we will be going around on this budget until June,” Anderson stated. “You should be able to come up with a number so council can understand how many projects may not be going ahead in 2018.”

However, staff remain optimistic they will be able to deliver on their proposals.

“If we knew today we would not achieve them, we would not be recommending,” Simpson said.

The $85.7 million capital wish list includes $28.3 million in growth-related projects, $26 million in road rehabilitation and $11.2 million in 407-related road widening and intersection improvement projects.

Major projects slated for Oshawa in 2018 include expanding Harmony Road to four and five lanes between Rossland Road and Taunton Road at the cost of $8.8 million, $10 million in costs to widen Simcoe Street to five lanes from Conlin Road to Winchester Road and $500,000 of rehab work on Centre Street and Simcoe Street in the downtown core.

Earlier this year, Durham director of finance Jim Clapp received council approval to develop a plan to use Federal Gas Tax funds to address the region’s most critical road rehabilitation needs.

Oshawa Councillor John Neal commented that this plan would have been useful over the past decade to help ease some pressure on the region and its taxpayers.

The region has been using federal tax funding towards payments on the construction of the Durham York Energy Centre for the past eight years, but Simpson says those payments are scheduled to stop in two or three years time.

The 2018 Transportation Financing and Servicing Study lays out a roadmap for Durham’s expected capital costs for transportation projects ahead to 2027, estimating the region will need to invest $1.3 billion over the next decade.

However, again, Simpson stressed these figures and the number of projects completed will be highly contingent on revenue levels from development charges, which the study forecasts will steadily rise over the next 10 years.

Five road corridors in Durham have been identified as high priority for capital projects, including the Bloor/Victoria/Bayly corridor, Harmony Road from Rossland Road to Conlin Road, and Gibb Street/Olive Avenue, the last of which Ajax Councillor Shaun Collier questioned.

“It just doesn’t fit. Is there a system to determine what warrants it [as a priority],” he asked.

Jagannathan said there is a list of criteria a roadway needs in order to be considered a priority, and in his opinion, Gibb Street fits into that area.

“It needs to be realigned into an east and west direct route,” he explained, noting it is also used as a relief road for emergency vehicles seeking to avoid the highly congested routes of King and Bloor streets.

However, Collier suggested staff should review the criteria and come up with a new plan.

“Once we get that checklist in place, I think this problem will go away. We really need a rationalization study,” he said.

Clarington Councillor Joe Neal argued that Gibb and Olive shouldn’t even be the region’s concern and more resources could be used towards busier roads.

“I’ve never run into a traffic problem on Olive Avenue in all the years I’ve used it, but try snaking along Bloor Street in the morning and a lot of times on the way back,” Neal said. “My concern is we are spending a lot of money on two roads that in my estimation shouldn’t even be regional roads, they should be City of Oshawa roads.”

Oshawa Councillor John Aker said that in his view, Gibb Street is an important route for the central and south part of the city and in critical need of work.

“The Gibb-Olive connection is very important to the City of Oshawa,” Aker says.”It’s so easy to focus on what I call new, new, new, but for our municipality, it’s important to focus on development south of Adelaide because we know everything north of Adelaide will take care of itself.”

Simpson also provided a brief update on the condition of infrastructure within the region’s transportation network.

Fifty-seven per cent of infrastructure has been rated as good to very good, while 12 per cent has been deemed to be in critical need of replacement or rehabilitation. In particular, while 98 per cent of bridges within the region’s inventory are currently in fair to good condition, the financing study notes many of the bridges have passed the mid-life range of their expected lifespan.

“This places the region’s structure inventory is at a critical juncture where increased investment in rehabilitation of structures is essential to mitigate the risks associated with deteriorated conditions,” city staff note in the study.