It is encouraging to see that Ontario premier-designate Kathleen Wynne has quickly signalled she is willing to spend political capital to get new revenue streams in place to build Toronto's much needed regional transportation plan. Our region urgently needs this kind of political leadership. For too long, political gridlock has blocked much needed progress on addressing our region's stifling transportation gridlock.
Ms. Wynne's position combined with the public consultations being held by Metrolinx and the upcoming City of Toronto-led consultations offer up hope that our government leaders are finally focused in the right direction.
Today, the debate is no longer whether we need new revenue tools to build new transportation infrastructure, the debate is about which tools we need to embrace.
Toronto Region Board of Trade members understand this. In a survey conducted last month, 66 per cent of our members said they agree that new dedicated funding sources are needed for regional transportation.
In the coming weeks, we will further advance this conversation with our transportation campaign members, to propose a narrow set of revenue tools that we believe are publicly and politically viable – and absolutely necessary. For too long we have been teased with lofty plans and colourful presentations that ended up collecting dust on government shelves. As Frank McKenna said at our 2010 Annual Dinner, "If announcements were streetcars, they would stretch all the way to Montreal." As a result, our infrastructure remains 20 years and hundreds of kilometres behind what's needed.
It's easy to draw lines on a map. What's hard is the courage to make real decisions on how to finance a regional transportation plan. Without that courage, improvement will continue to spin along a round-about to nowhere.
By now, everyone knows the costs to build much needed transportation infrastructure are staggering. The Metrolinx regional transportation plan needs at least another $35-billion. While, several key projects in the Toronto Region are now under way, totalling about $16-billion, these investments represent only a first step. Nearly 80 per cent of the plan remains unfunded.
But that price tag is dwarfed by the financial toll of $6-billion in lost productivity annually. In 20 years it will be $15-billion. All of us in our own way understand the cost to our quality of life.
Past inaction and the influx of approximately 100,000 new residents a year has caught up to us. Every day, more than 350,000 people commute into Toronto. Nearly as many Torontonians pass them heading in the other direction.
On June 1, 2013 Metrolinx is to hand to governments a financing strategy that will raise billions required. All of our provincial parties must commit to meeting this deadline. If the Toronto Region is going to achieve its full potential as a great place to live, work and compete globally, its infrastructure challenges must be addressed.
Three years ago, Toronto Region Board of Trade began the important conversation on dedicated transportation infrastructure revenue tools by releasing 16 possible options. Further Board of Trade reports detailed how neither provincial nor municipal governments have the funds to pay for the regional transportation plan from current revenue streams.
Having government leaders understand this need for new revenue tools and willing to participate is encouraging indeed. Toronto Region Board of Trade is willing to stand behind them.
Carol Wilding is the president and CEO of the Toronto Region Board of Trade