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Business Briefing Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal among worst for traffic congestion in N. America

These are stories Report on Business is following Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013.

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Road runners
Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal rank among the worst cities in North America for traffic congestion, according to an annual study.

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The findings by TomTom are important because, not only is there our frustration level to think of, there's also the issue of time spent getting to and from work, and, thus, our productivity (particularly given that we're not supposed to be on our smartphones while driving).

No surprise here, but the worst city is Los Angeles, where it takes drivers 34 per cent longer, on average, to get where they're going than when traffic is "flowing freely." And, of course, it's far higher in rush hour. The average for North America is 19 per cent, according to the third such study by TomTom, a manufacturer of navigation products based in Amsterdam.

What may be more surprising is that the three Canadian cities rank in the top 10, which, of course, means the 10 worst. Indeed, Vancouver holds the distinction of being No. 2, and shares with L.A. the 34-per-cent level.

Vancouver is followed by San Francisco in the No. 3 spot (33 per cent), Honolulu at No. 4 (31 per cent), and Seattle at No. 5 (27 per cent). The next five, in order, include Toronto (26 per cent), New Orleans (25 per cent), San Jose (25 per cent), Montreal (24 per cent) and Chicago (24 per cent).

The TomTom Congestion Index is based on data from July to September of last year.

TransCanada wins project
Malaysia's Petronas has chosen TransCanada Corp. to build its $5-billion Prince Rupert gas transmission project, The Globe and Mail's Bertrand Marotte reports.

TransCanada announced today that Progress Energy Canada Ltd., the company formed after the Petronas takeover of Progress Energy Resources Corp., selected it to construct the pipeline that will move gas from from the North Montney region in British Columbia to a proposed export operation near Prince Rupert, B.C.

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Fight for Inmet heats up
The quest by First Quantum Minerals Ltds. for Inmet Mining Corp. went into high gear today as the hostile suitor took its $5.1-billion bid directly to shareholders.

Inmet has twice rejected lower offers from First Quantum, which wants to gain control of the huge Cobre Panama copper project in Central America, The Globe and Mail's Pav Jordan reports. The bid now stands at $72 a share.

"We are taking the significant step of making this proposal directly to Inmet shareholders and requesting their support for what, together, we know can be achieved," said First Quantum chief executive officer Philip Pascall. "We invite Inmet shareholders to participate in this vision and to become shareholders in this most exciting new venture."

Housing starts slip
Canada's residential construction industry cooled in December, along with the slowdown in the housing market.

Housing starts fell to an annual pace of 197,976 units last month, from 201,376 in November, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said today.

"As expected, housing starts remained below their recent trend in Canada," said deputy chief economist Mathieu Laberge.

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"The decrease recorded in December was due to a decline in rural starts, while urban starts remained stable. Housing starts were below their trends in all regions except Ontario."

Housing starts in urban areas, traditionally volatile in nature, climbed more than 33 per cent in Ontario. They sank almost 24 per cent in the Prairie provinces, almost 12 per cent in Quebec, more than 8 per cent in British and 1.6 per cent in the eastern provinces.

"Although today's numbers look a bit better than expected, they mark the fourth straight month of slowing in homebuilding activity, suggesting that Canada's once-bustling homebuilding sector is cooling," said economist Emanuella Enenajor of CIBC World markets.

"Declines were seen in rural housing starts. In urban areas, single family homebuilding increased, but that offset declines in multi-family homebuilding. Note that urban multi-family (condo) housing starts are up only 0.4 per cent from year-ago levels, while housing starts are down by 1.2 per cent on the year. Today's data suggest that the homebuilding sector, once an engine of growth for the Canadian economy, is on a clear softening trend."

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